I love reading up on new insights and methods especially if it's going to advance the way we do things in the field.
But one challenge of adaptive learning is making sense of what to read and why.
See, there's lots of books on culture building, creativity, innovation, process design, design thinking, and strategy, and while the subject matter might be relevant, these books usually fall in two distinct camps:
- Those with the same worn messages already repeated by other books
- Those with something new, unique, and useful to say
I won't be interested in the former, but the latter. I've also avoided anything written explicitly about "nonprofit strategy" or "strategic planning." Ironically, a lot of them just don't have anything new and insightful to say. Or it all just ranks very high on Dan Roam's Bla-Bla-meter On Amazon, these same books, despite it now being 2014, are described as being boring, mundane, and just hard to follow.
If there's an onslaught of people being bored to tears by said books, whose fault is it, really?
My list here contains books not explicitly written on nonprofits or social good, either.
Because what I'm aiming for here is a collection of "primers" so that one can continue to piece things together. It's for the adaptive, design-inspired leader or practitioner who want to change things up in the space of nonprofit strategic planning.
This is the lifelong task of any adaptive learner. And by adaptive learning, I mean being more than just open-minded, but being skilled and able to fuse different bodies of knowledge together, then put them to new creative uses in the field.
This relates to the idea of T-Shaped leaders and managers, an idea that originated from McKinsey & Company when hiring adaptive consultants; T-shaped people and problem-solving were preferred, versus I-shaped.
T-Shaped people can progresively adapt a wide breadth of skills and disciplines (horizontal of the T) while possessing one area of strong domain knowledge (vertical part of the T). They're highly experimental and experiential people, and because of this, they cannot be traditionally generalized or categorized.
IDEO defended T-Shaped people in their hiring processes. Tim Brown talked about it in his book "Change by Design," then Tom Kelley talked about it in his book "Ten Faces of Innovation." You can find the idea continually mentioned in other articles like this one entitled Strategy by Design.
Well, whether it's called T-shaped or X-shaped or whatever ∞-shape:
Nonprofit leaders wishing to shape their culture into a more design-inspired, get-shit-done organization must adapt a hybrid body of knowledge and apply it in their current roles. I think this counts for the books and research that's going to help us make sense of things.
After all, the period of three-to-five year visions, static nonprofit strategic plans, and SWOT charts is a foregone time. It's a fast way to keep nonprofits trapped in their own pasts.
We've made some progress in kicking up the conversation regards design thinking (or cleverly, "design doing") and lean sartup principles for nonprofits. It's a great starting point, and it's only scratching the surface. We've only just begun.
The space is wide open nonprofit 3.0. But I don't think it's going to be about marketing plans, a social media presence, top notch tech, or planning documents anymore. Nonprofit 3.0 will be about hacking it forward: It'll be about problem-finding, designing social impact, collaborating on wicked problems, and iterating towards real outcomes. It'll be about reinventing the nonprofit.
We are now in the era of designing nonprofit strategy.
We are now in the era of making small bets, testing hunches, experimenting, and reiterating.
We seek nonprofit leaders that rise against long and frivolous planning endeavors with nearly ZERO ROI on time, money, and energy spent.
We must build nonprofit cultures where — if an idea isn't addressing a problem or fixing anything at all — then people are allowed to call it out.
There you have it. Here's a growing resource of books I can suggest to help you reinvent, make sense, and shape this space. Happy hunting!
PS: I'll be adding more books here frequently (hint: bookmark this). There are also some good, albeit rather obscure classics out there that I would say is "required reading." I'll be saving it for another post, though!
The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Defeating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization