“The Lean Startup” — for nonprofits too!

I’m most of the way through Eric Reis’ 2011 book, “The Lean Startup.”  As the title suggests, it’s attempt to apply “lean” management thinking (as developed at Toyota and popularized by a thousand books and consultants) to entrepreneurial startups.  But what really grapped me by the proverbial lapels was how directly most of his ideas apply to nonprofits.  After all, Reis’ core definition of an entrepreneur is someone who has to manage under conditions of extreme uncertainty–or, as Ronald Heifetz might put it, people who face adaptive challenges.

Reis’ solution is that leaders have to design their organizations so they can hypothesize, build, measure and learn in iterative cycles, as fast as possible.  Central to this is the idea of “validated learning” — using data to confirm or falsify specific hypotheses about each element of the experiment.  There’s some great discussion of how to approach experiment design and how to avoid “vanity metrics” (list size, anyone?) in favor of measurements that actually correspond to success.

I love, love, love the idea that social change organizations need to think of themselves as learning machines, where the objective is to do learning experiments as fast as possible, backed by rigorous data.  (Bonus: imagine if philanthropy worked this way!)

This perfectly corresponds with much of what I’ve been thinking and writing about lately.  I can’t wait to have the opportunity to chat about it with 100 of my smartest colleagues at Web of Change.

Technology is not the question or the answer

My friends Tim Walker and Michael Silberman have been doing some thinking about the long-term problems with many of the approaches to date about social change + technology and have popped out a provocative (and very welcome!) manifesto about the need for “web thinking.”


I was honored to contribute some thoughts on the early drafts, and while I don’t think it’s perfect, the final version is a must-read if you’re serious about changing how change happens.   It’s great to see people engaging in serious, big-picture critical thinking like this.  The conversation’s already going on in the comments.  You should join in.  See you there in five.

ONE/Northwest Is Hiring a Database Consultant

Our database consulting practice here at ONE/Northwest is continuing to boom.  We’re looking to add another database consultant to our team here in Seattle:


Come help us build next generation relationship management systems for kick-ass environmental groups!

Nonprofits, Open Source and Leadership: ONE/Northwest and the Plone Community

My colleagues and I at ONE/Northwest have been spending a lot of time engaging with an Open Source software development community (the folks who make Plone) over the past two years. It’s been an amazing learning experience.

The following essay summarizes our experiences and attempts to tease out someulearnings both for nonprofits and for Open Source communities

This is a really rough first draft. I invite your thoughts, feedback, questions and criticisms. Tell me what parts (if any) ring true with you. Tell me what to cut. Tell me what I missed, or what I just plain got wrong.

Continue reading Nonprofits, Open Source and Leadership: ONE/Northwest and the Plone Community

Ready to Rock the WoC!

Ok, can I just say that I am officially Very Excited about heading up to Web of Change 2007?  Jodie and Sarah and the whole WoC crew have been doing a tremendous job of pulling together an fantastic agenda and and amazing group of people.  I can’t wait to meet all 90 of them!

I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to once again drink in the delights of Hollyhock and to spend face-time with so many old and new friends.

And for those of you who don’t yet know what ovenracking is: be prepared! 🙂