Big Ideas and Organic Growth

I just got back from a conference, an experience that almost leaves me with a few nuggets to ponder, often about what was not said or the opportunity.

In this case, the main takeaway nugget from OpenEd2015 related to little groups with big ideas. And what happens when they capture the attention of the big grant organizations and other investors.

I’ve succeeded in running a few pretty big projects. For the most part these projects part have had virtually nothing in common except  for two things:

  1. We never had any money allocated to them at the start
  2. There was some agreement that there was a critical problem to solve (And if we didn’t solve it our core business could break)

As a result, we spent alot  of time overcoming resistance and building partnerships via compromise. The scope of these projects started narrow and then grew in order to address the varied needs of many. With each scope creep however, we identified what we had to do and what beyond the “must haves” we could do because it was the best thing for the group. We experienced more than a few twists and turns, but ultimately we succeeded due to the efforts of the group. (In a discussion yesterday someone kept asking who was the “we” I was referring to, and I struggled to answer because, well, the “we” was “everyone” at some point in some way.)

I’m now contrasting that approach (borne out of necessity) with the proposal-grant /investor approach in which it looks like:

  1. Funds are provided based on an idea (not a project in progress)
  2. Funds are tied to specific activities (You can do X but not Y)
  3. Funds expire at a certain time
  4. Funds are awarded based on the proposer’s criteria and not necessarily tied to the most critical needs of the organization
  5. There are strict requirements to account for funds,  report on progress and share outcomes

I’m starting to realize that it is very possible that my ill-funded projects succeed because of  rather than in spite  of our constraints.

  • Without any seed money up front, these projects inherently have sustainability built in. When money is injected it is used to support a clear (usually one-time) need to move the project forward.
  • Change management is also built in (In order to get you to do something extra in your day, we need you to buy into its long-term value.)
  • As success is achieved, the risks to the overall  business are reduced – Even the “tough sells” can’t help but buy in
  • Because they involve a change in beliefs, once they gain some steam, they are hard (though not impossible) to kill – How can you stop someone from doing extra work to make things better?

There may be bigger implications to consider, but for tonight I’ll be thankful that all my current fledgling projects consist of little groups who do have big ideas, but not enough money to do anything but grow organically.



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