Are you a Generous Mind?

Are you a Generous Mind? If you are intrigued by the idea, this is a place to explore what it means to you. Our blog focuses on helping you to learn what it means to be generous with what you know. You will find helpful tips and encouraging examples that will inspire you to release your ideas to the world! Find out more at

Thursday, November 21, 2019

5 Reasons We Don't Get Close to our Customer

Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash
In the innovation process, one of the most important tasks is to get close to those you are seeking to serve. But, as one who is directly involved in intrapreneurship work, let me tell you that this task is one of the hardest to follow through on.

Why is that? What keeps us from getting close to those we desire to serve? Let me give you 5 reasons for your consideration:

  1. We are afraid that the idea we love so much will not be appreciated by those we want to use it. It is easier to hope they will like it than face the potential rejection if they don't. 
  2. It is hard work to get on people's schedules and coordinate the time to get input from our target market. 
  3. Sometimes we don't have a good enough understanding of who we our customer is to actually get real people in a room. 
  4. There is a tendency to make the process too complex. We think we have to have fancy focus groups or surveys with thousands of people to get input. In the process we minimize the value of getting the feedback we can access today.
  5. Being so close to our product/service, we can struggle to know what to ask and what input to request. 
If any of these five issues have kept you from engaging your audience with your innovation project, I would encourage you to take this first step: Find one person who you think would use what you are developing, explain it to them/show it to them and then ask them what they think. Start simple, get out there and be ready to listen and respond! 

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Nothing About Strangers is Easy

We live in an era of isolation. Loneliness is reaching epidemic levels. We are also a quickly urbanizing; with 90% of the planet's people expected to live in urban areas of 2100. So it is natural that we have a significantly higher number of connections to strangers on a daily basis. But is this a big deal? Well, according to Malcolm Gladwell's new book "Talking to Strangers," not only is it a big deal, but we are really bad at it.

And the implications of being bad at talking to strangers isn't trivial. There are huge implications to the miscommunication between strangers that arise from unforeseen misunderstandings and misperceptions.

Honestly, I had never thought about this challenge. And part of the reason is that I make many of the blunders Gladwell describes very regularly when I talk with strangers. His book opened my eyes to the ways that I misread strangers and the dangers that result.

This book is Gladwell's darkest and most menacing. Usually Gladwell is highlighting a specific cultural and psychological human dynamic. His meticulous research and knack for storytelling brings the ideas in Tipping Point, Blink, and his other books to life in powerful ways. But this book is all about "Stranger Danger" and how strangers are even more dangerous because we misunderstand. I would have loved to see some positive and redeeming stranger encounters in the book to balance out the heaviness. But I understand that each of the stories he picked did highlight the core problem he addresses.

That core problem is that we think it is easy to talk to strangers and it is really very difficult.

Gladwell shares three key tools that we can put in our tool belt as we engage with strangers:

  1. Default to Truth: He makes the case that our human nature trusts what a stranger says. This is fundamentally a good thing as it allows us to trust bus drivers, bankers, fast food preparers, etc. However, with 24/7 news coverage we are exposed to the deviant behavior of some strangers and begin to feel that it is normative. Gladwell makes a good case for why it is not and we should continue to act as if it isn't. 
  2. Transparency: Gladwell explains that we believe we can read people based on how they act, but many times the way people act is not consistent with who they are. He described this as being "mismatched." Very often we make assumptions about strangers when their actions are mismatched with their motives. 
  3. Coupling: Finally, he proposes that many times certain actions or decisions being made by strangers are coupled with another key item such as place, time, socioeconomic conditions, etc. We believe that the actions of a stranger would be easy to decode no matter what situation they find themselves in. Gladwell says that we have to couple the actions of a stranger with other key factors to really understand what is happening. 
These three items are very helpful and I am looking forward to applying them to different situations in my work. While this book was a really challenging read because of the heavy content and its winding nature, it is a critical topic and Gladwell has added some important insight for us to consider as we connect with a world increasingly filled with strangers. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Incremental Innovation: Changing Who Decides

Photo by Raquel Martínez on Unsplash
Not all innovation is a revolution. As I have said many times, incremental innovation is a valid and useful element of an organization's overall innovation strategy. Sometimes a tried-and-true program simply needs some creative tweaks to get a lease on life.

I want to focus on one of these incremental tweaks today. A friend of mine just shared a Vox article on LinkedIn that was focused on a change World Vision recently made to their child sponsorship approach. World Vision is not getting rid of child sponsorship for some completely new approach. They are simply making a tweak. Here's how Vox describes it, "Under their new model, announced last week, people who’d like to sponsor a child take pictures of themselves. The pictures are then presented to children at a community-wide event, and the children select the people they want as a sponsor."

What happened here? By changing who decides on the connection, World Vision has changed the experience. Now donors submit photos and hope to be selected and children in communities around the globe look at various donors and decide who they want to be connected with. It is a small change, but it will have big consequences. 

With any incremental innovation you have to look at the pros and cons of the "tweak" and decide if it will be a net positive for the program or a negative. In this case, let's go through the exercise. One the positive side, you are affirming childhood agency and allowing children in traditionally powerless situations to have some choice in who they are associated with. The child gets to think through "where they support comes from" at a level that allows them to better understand what they are accepting and from whom. 

On the negative side, this tweak is introducing a consumer approach to generosity to a child who may have never thought about love and kindness through the lens of a marketplace of options. Instead of the child being able to accept the gift and enjoy the benefits, now we are asking them to pick between generous and loving people as if they could possibly know which one might be better. How could they possibly make a meaningful choice in that situation? 

As you can see, this small tweak to an existing philanthropy model has big implications on the donor, recipient and organization. We need to recognize the power of incremental innovation and approach it with care and intentionality. 

What do you think of World Vision's new approach to child sponsorship? I would love to hear your perspectives on this incremental change they have made. 

Monday, August 05, 2019

Beyond #ThoughtsandPrayers

"There is something deeply hypocritical about 
praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve." 
Miroslav Volf

After the tragic events of this weekend, we are faced yet again with the complete inadequacy of simply sending out our condolences. At the same time, beyond condolences, what might we do about the spiraling hate and violence that we are witnessing?

We get stuck because there does not seem to be a practical next step for the average citizen to take. But that is actually not the case. We would like to propose that there is a next step that will help you authentically live out your faith while engaging with a hurting world. As a way to change the conversation, would you consider taking these four steps this week:

  1. Search out a friend that is on the opposite side of the gun control issue than you are and take them out for coffee or lunch. Ask them specifically about why they believe as they do and how they are coming to grips with these horrendous mass shootings. 
  2. Read the proposals that your various elected officials have put out on how to deal with gun-related tragedies. Compare them with your own understanding of the issues. Read up on what the experts say about the complexity of the bigger issue. 
  3. Google a trusted charity who is responding to these latest shootings and help support their work. Here is one in El Paso and one in Dayton. If you live close enough, volunteer with a charity that is supporting those impacted. If you don't live very close, consider making one of these towns your next vacation destination and invest in their economy in a tangible way.
  4. With #1-3 done, now search your heart for what God is saying to you and how He is helping you to grow as you respond. Write down the prayer that He brings to your mind and share that prayer specifically with friends and family (and maybe even on social media). 
When our thoughts and prayers come out of relationship, deepening understanding and action, then they have meaning and authenticity.

As I write this post, my thoughts go to E. Stanley Jone's words, "What are suffering Christians to do? They can say to themselves: 'I cannot determine what happens to me, but I can determine what it will do to me after it does happen. It will make me a better person and more useful.' That is victory."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Creating a Sandbox

Photo by Ostap Senyuk on Unsplash

Have you ever watched children play in a sandbox at the park. They are drawn to the confines of this box and most of the sand they play with actually stays in its borders . . . amazingly. The sandbox is an ingenious invention. It gives children a safe place to play, experiment, imagine and enjoy the sand that fills it.

We need the same in our organizations. Sandboxes I mean. Knowing that people respond to safe spaces and gravitate to them to do some of their most creative work, we need to create innovation sandboxes that tell our staff it is ok to experiment here.

Many times we tell those we work with, "We want you to be innovative." But most of the time we don't take the next step and create the spaces for that innovation. We assume it will just happen. But I think we can all attest to the fact that it doesn't.

So what is a sandbox practically. It might defined by a particular project. It might be an actual room in your office. It could be a weekly brainstorming session you hold. Maybe it is a budget you create that gives funding to your team's latest idea. The sandbox can take many shapes but what it always provides is a place where your team feels safe trying something new.

What sandbox can you create this week for your team to begin exploring?

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Rob Wassel Responds

One of our speakers at the #InnovationInMission live web event (watch the video here) was Rob Wassel, Executive Director of the Seeds Global Innovation Lab and Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer for Pioneers. He shared a case study on how Pioneers navigated the process of implementing Design Thinking; which became the genesis of Seeds. While we answered a variety of questions right after his presentation, many more were left unanswered. Here are some follow-up answers from Rob to support your innovation work.

How should mission organizations change our recruitment practises (or not) to enhance innovation?
We must first acknowledge and accept that creativity and innovation can and will come from all levels of an organization. As such, we desire to tap the collective creativity and intelligence of the entire organization. When we’re able to push past a bias of “looking for innovative people,” it will allow us to see the creativity of people more fully, and in a different way. With uncountable recruitment practises in play, I can’t say which ones need to be changed. And, as such, I’m not convinced that a change in recruitment practises “enhance innovation.” Rather, I’d encourage innovation and allow what needs to emerge, including a novel manner in which we recruit. 

How do we create buy-in for innovative ideas in a global organization?
Creating buy-in for innovation is not unlike creating buy-in for any other significant change in an organization. It’s essential that we help people understand what it means to be innovative. So often, the word “innovation” is thrown around without clarifying what it means. At Seeds, we find that having a common language surrounding innovation is one of the greatest gifts we can provide for employees and executives alike. Secondly, leaving innovation as a nebulous concept will be the detriment of the company’s buy-in. Utilizing a process for innovation, whether it’s Design Thinking or another altogether, enables employees to become familiar with what it means (and just as importantly, does not mean) to be innovative. Leaders must capitalize upon our “early adopters,” helping them to evangelize the idea of deliberately pursuing innovation. From there, structuring a process for change in the organization will drive a new company culture that’s conducive to accepting innovative ideas. 

We like to say that innovation “buy-in” comes from pain or pleasure. Pleasure being the hope of a better future, (i.e. Kingdom meta-narrative). Only when the pain is so great, or the promise of a better future overwhelms us, will we be willing to leave our habitual ways of thinking and doing. Innovation is fun to talk about, as long as we’re talking about others. But when innovation rests on the doorstep of what we’ve spent years building and creating, our tendency is to anchor ourselves to the past. Innovation is threatening. Buy-in for innovation must come from a deep willingness to die to ourselves and what we’ve created in order to realize the higher good, that God want’s us to discover. 

What are some ways that those of us in developing nation contexts can practically incorporate innovation?
One of the greatest challenges that we face in the “innovation” space is the defining of the term. We find that empowering people to feel the freedom to “be innovative” only goes so far. While people may feel the freedom to create, they rarely take time from their daily tasks to make it happen. Consequently, a great gift you can give to a team in a developing nation is to carve out time specifically for you as a team to discuss ideas. The first few times that you do, it will undoubtedly be awkward, but push through it. What you’ll find is that over time, employees will recognize that you (the leader) are doing this to drive acceptance of ideas and creativity on the team. They’ll see your heart. They’ll see your passion. At the end of the day, you want them to see clearly that you’re devoted to seeing your mission complete. The best way to do that will not come from something you’ve already tried, but by something you will one day do. Because we believe that Design Thinking is a low-barrier, easy access model of innovation, the team at Seeds Global Innovation Lab have dedicated their focus on leveraging and teaching that model. Begin reading about and applying low-risk challenges through a Design paradigm and you’ll be surprised how far you get!

With the acceleration of the speed of change, what are some key resources you would recommend for us to stay informed?
While I read a great deal from magazines and periodicals, many of them are opinionated and quite secular. Nevertheless, they are helpful to better understand culture, economics and government. Some of my top magazine reads are MIT Sloan Management Review, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Entrepreneur, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, and The Economist. Brett King’s book, Augmented is a great read as well. Research the idea of “Social Acceleration” to better understand how society is in a state of hyper-speed. 

Innovation is disruptive by design – what are your thoughts on creating a buffer between a highly creative design space and critical core systems where untested changes can cause ripple effects that take huge energy to recover?
Some would argue that innovation should take place in a sterilized environment in which innovation’s effect will be limited so as to protect the core business. This is not always bad, yet can often be rooted in conservatism – or even fear. In the Design Thinking process, the final stage is Testing, in which the team receives in-depth feedback around the “solution.” This ignites a process of iterative refining that gets the “solution” closer to what the end-user really needs and wants. The Testing stage provides a buffer so as to not affect critical systems while simultaneously delivering a solution that will meet the needs of the end-user. Conservatism calls for protecting the core business from disruption. Innovation pushes the boundaries, even at a risk, for greater success in the future. It is with certainty that we can say that a business will not be transformed by doing what they’ve always done; it will come by doing something they’ve, generally, never done. A wonderful trait of Design Thinking is that it allows for iterative testing of prototypes in an way that, if done well *(continually testing with one’s “end-users” to gain more insights) will create less of a ripple effect on the financial model or typical flow of business. I’m not suggesting it is easy, however, I would not recommend isolating innovation in a “lab” as a protective mechanism. There is a whole science behind your question. I would recommend further researching “the back end of innovation.”

Could you give us examples of your team's greatest innovation?
It is important to define the idea of "our team's greatest innovations." The Seeds team is not the team that creates innovations, rather our team facilitates others to do so. As such, we've facilitated several internal projects with Pioneers. In doing so, Seeds lab facilitates those teams to discover solutions to their own challenges. They create solutions through the innovation (Design Thinking) process. Seeds is the guide on that journey that provides them with the tools and resources to both innovate around a single challenge and have the capacity to apply those learnings for future challenges. Due to proprietary restrictions, we cannot speak about projects we've done with external clients; several of which were outstanding innovations. While limited in scope now, our website will be updated at the end of May to include some of the organizations we've served.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Top 10 Reasons to Attend Innovation in Mission

On April 24 at 11 a.m. Eastern, I will be hosting the 2nd annual Innovation In Mission live web event. I'm very excited about this time we will have to focus on the theme "Getting Innovation Done!"

But with the event right around the corner, I thought it might be helpful to share with you the top 10 reasons I think you should take the time to attend:

10. The event is online and only requires you to set aside an hour and a half in your busy day.

9. Many people say they want to be innovative, but do little to act on that goal. This is a simple thing you can do to begin your journey.

8. Rather than focusing on theory, this event will give you tangible things you can try to implement right after the event is over.

7. You will hear from actual innovation practitioners working in the nonprofit space, such as Rob Wassel from Pioneers.

6. You can gather a few of your co-workers together to watch it and learn as a group.

5. The audience will bring a richness to the event with all of their experience and diverse roles. Take a look at this word cloud of all the roles that were listed when people registered.

4. Attendees are registered from 21 countries including United States, Brazil, Ecuador, Spain, Nigeria, India, Benin, South Africa, Costa Rica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Mexico, Uruguay, Thailand, Germany, Paraguay, Taiwan, Dominican Republic, France, Canada, and United Kingdom)

3. You will be hearing from speakers with diverse background that range from Fortune 500 consulting (Carolina Salazar) to missiologists (JD Payne). 

2. We will be making a special announcement at the event about a unique ongoing opportunity to learn about innovation.

1. Advancing your skills in practicing innovation is key to your ability to have impact and be relevant in these constantly changing times. 

So, if you have registered, make sure you set the time aside and attend. If you haven't registered yet, visit and get registered for the April 24 event.