Sunday, March 15, 2009

Political Will

A few weeks ago on 60 Minutes, the show did a rare interview with the Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke. It was a good interview with some helpful insights. But the most telling insight of all was this comment that is taken from MSNBC's reporting of the interview, "Asked about the biggest potential dangers now, Bernanke suggested a lack of "political will" to solve the financial crisis."

This word is very popular these days and so I thought it would be worth taking a look at it. The more I have worked in nonprofit leadership circles and on partnership efforts, I have realized that this issue of political will is crucial to success.

In a paper submitted to the 2008 Annual Meeting of the National Communication Association, political will is defined as follows:

"Our ideal-type definition of political will requires that a sufficient set of political actors with a common understanding of a particular problem on the public agenda genuinely intends to support a commonly perceived, potentially effective policy solution. This definition includes four different components, which we deem necessary conditions:

(1) A sufficient set of political actors

(2) With a common understanding of a particular problem on the public agenda

(3) Genuinely intends to support

(4) A commonly perceived, potentially effective policy solution."

Just as the government is struggling with a "lack of political will," I think that many partnership efforts among ministries are dealing with a similar challenge. This definition takes a very abstract concept and really helps us to look at our associations, partnerships and organizations and consider whether we have garnered the political will to make the changes necessary to innovate and survive in these challenging times. Lets take each one and apply it to the nonprofit arena:

(1) A sufficient set of political actors
These words imply that the right people are at the table in order to process the challenge ahead. It also implies that there are enough people at the table to affect change. When you face some of your great challenges in your settings, are the right people at the table? The right people will be those who are influencers, who have a significant stake in the problem and those who represent your internal constituencies.

(2) With a common understanding of a particular problem on the public agenda
Do those gathering to process and consider your challenge have a common and solid base of information on which to begin discussions? So many times these discussions are punctuated with a lack of basic understanding. But that is the fault of the convener of the meeting as well as the participant. Think about what you can do to bring people to the table with a common understanding of the problem you are wanting to solve.

(3) Genuinely intends to support
One of our greatest mistakes is that so many times we sit down at the table to work out a solution when a group present does not support the basic premise or issue at hand. Now we should not take this line of the definition to mean that we need a group of "yes-people" bobbing their heads in a meeting. The way I read this is that those who gather must all agree that the problem is real and that a solution is needed through this effort. If all parties agree to that, then the compromise and planning will take place to come up with a direction. But if there are groups of people who attend without any expectation of supporting the initiative, then political will cannot be achieved.

(4) A commonly perceived, potentially effective policy solution."
This is the toughest part. As I read this definition, for political will to be exerted there has to be an understood solution presented ahead of your deliberations which can bring understanding and general support to your discussions. This last piece involves a lot of homework by the sponsor or champion of the process. Before a group can be brought together to discuss options and build political will, the homework to define in broad strokes what the possible solutions are must take place. This seems backwards. So many times we bring people together with some basic facts and challenges and ask the group to design the solution. But what I have found every time is that a group does not have the time, knowledge or skills to define solutions in a meeting. This must be done ahead of time (with interaction with others) and presented for crafting, modifying and compromise. In this instance, the pre-meeting homework is critical. Unless you have defined the potential solutions and given your participants the chance to interact, they will not be ready to coalesce behind a solution.

So many times in our nonprofits we ask the wrong people to come to the table, without the key information that would inform their participation, unclear of their support for the general direction and withholding the potential solution that we are considering. This is a recipe for disaster in our innovation efforts.

So lets turn this around positively. What should we do when faced with a major initiative that requires significant political will within our organization or cooperative partnership?

1. We should get those with influence, decision making ability and representative authority at the table.

2. We should make sure that everyone at the table has the background and resources to be knowledgeable about the issue at hand.

3. We should do our footwork and make sure that everyone at the table has a vested interest in a solution and is genuine in their participation.

4. We should bring a proposal to those negotiations based on all the above so that the group can get to work on creating a viable way forward.

Inspiring Innovation Visually

There are many resources that inspire innovation. Each of us have tools that help us see the world differently and think in new/creative ways.

One cateogry of tools that I have found to be very helpful are visual ones. It is amazing the difference that it makes when you look at a problem from a different perspective. Sometimes if you have been reading articles about a specific issue and the you see a good chart, it can make it come clear.

As we strive to look at our world in innovative ways as we work in missions, there are several vrey good tools that are a big help in our Great Commission Work.

Here are a few:

World Mapper: This site creates maps that change the proportions to represent the statistic they are focused on. This means that a map of the world representing HIV/AIDS prevalence shows Africa as very large while Russia is shrunk significantly. These maps help you look at statistics in a new way and have the opportunity to provide new insights.

Dynamic Data: Justin Long from has taken the data about world religions between 1800 and projections through 2050 and created a dynamic graph that allows you to see the growth of religions, and compare specific ones to each other.

Globe Trotting: The Joshua Project team has taken their people group data and repurposed it into Google Earth. This lets you navigate the world using Google Earth and see where the people groups of the world live. It brings a very different perspective to the information.

Mission InfoBank: Global Mapping International is an organization that helps to take mission data and represent it visually. One example is this map of the Bible translation need around the world. When you look at the world in this way, it helps you understand the reality of ministry in these parts of the world. It will change your perspective on church planting, leadership training, evangelism, and on and on.

As you look at your specific efforts in innovation, consider how visual data can help you find breakthroughs.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What makes a place innovative?

Innovation isn't spread through pixy dust or mojo - oh how we wish it was. Wouldn't it be great if you could buy a can of innovation powder and spread it around your study or your office? Alas, innovation is a more complex brew that takes some dissecting.

Steve Knight is a member of our facebook innovation group and an amazing kingdom journalist/innovator. He shared with me a map that McKinsey created to show hot spots of innovation (more on that further down). And as I thought about this issue, I began to ask myself about the characteristics that make a place innovative.

Fast Company Magazine (one of my favorites) has what they call the Fast 50. These are the 50 most innovative companies. They just released the 2009 results and you will be fascinated. The five most innovative were: 1) Team Obama 2) Google 3) Hulu 4) Apple 5) Cisco Systems. They have identified those companies that are changing the rules and leading the pack. As I have watched this list, it seems to be based upon which companies are taking new ideas and turning them into strategic advantages within specific arenas. Google in search, Apple in music, Obama in fundraising/mobilization, etc.

McKinsey has created a map of the most innovative cities around the globe. They used two key criteria on their graph:
  • momentum: average growth of US patents
  • diversity: number of separate companies
This criteria for innovation focuses on the number of new ideas are created by companies. In essence they are saying that if you or your organization is creating new ideas and taking the time to own them, you are in a position to innovate.

They go on to break up the cities into these categories:
  • hot springs: small fast growing hubs (Brisbane)
  • dynamic oceans: large vibrant ecosystems (Taipei)
  • silent lakes: older slower-growing hubs (Tel Aviv)
  • shrinking pools: unable, so far, to expand beyond their start-up core (Indianapolis)
In another article, I found another interesting twist on innovation. Forbes shared that 7 of the top 10 innovative countries are in Europe. The article talked about how many times we view Europe as old and slow - the opposite of innovative. However, it talks about the key things that make Europe innovative. Many companies in these countries have long-standing innovation task forces. They have a high level of research and a value for quality. The article also talked about the number of patents in these countries that give their companies an innovative edge.

It really helps to see the companies, cities and countries that are innovative. It gives us ideas on how we as ministries and how we personally can create cultures of innovation. I encourage you to read some of the articles in this posting and study these examples. Look for things that you can incorporate.

But I also want to share some of the characteristics that they have not mentioned which I believe create an environment of innovation in ministry:

1. Trust: When trust is high, then organizations can move quickly, adopt new ideas and think strategically. When trust is low, the atmosphere is full of confusion, in-fighting and second guessing. A great book on this is "Speed of Trust"

2. Risk Tolerance: Every person and every organization has a tolerance for risk. Those organizations that know their risk tolerance and then allow ideas to develop with that level of risk as a guide can be innovative. If level of risk is an unknown, then organizations always find themselves with various opinions about whether an idea is worth pursuing but have no language to describe it.

3. Defined Standards: When a person or organization has defined standards for quality, missiology, strategy and so on, then innovation has a place to grow. When no standards exist, then ideas tend to fly out uncontrolled and can't get a foothold. But when there are parameters that help define direction and success then innovation has a place to develop.

4. Interdependence: When people find themselves in a place that fosters learning and collaboration, innovation will not be far behind. When it is ok to take time and learn new things and share them with others, then those ideas have a chance of finding practical purposes.

We could go on and on, but I will leave it with this question: Based on some of the input above, is your ministry environment innovative? If so . . . what have you created? If not . . . what are you going to do to begin creating a place where new ideas can thrive?