Ending Child Marriage in Malawi: A Roadmap to Sustainable Change

MEMORY BANDA

Guest post by Emily Teistworth, Director of Programs, Let Girls Lead. This article originally appeared on February 17, 2015 in The Huffington Post.

This piece is the first installment of our “Converging For Impact” series, indented to lift up the voices across our network of partners and highlight their amazing change efforts for a better world. David Sawyer, our Strategy Director, has been partnering closely with Let Girls Lead over the past six months to help clarify their “Core DNA,” strengthen & create an intentional organizational culture, and define and execute on strategic priorities for 2015.

Malawi outlawed child marriage last week. Following more than five years of undaunted advocacy by Malawian girls, their allies and civil society leaders, the country’s Parliament tabled and passed the “Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Bill,” increasing the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. This legal victory is a huge step forward for girls’ and women’s rights globally. The fact that it has been a painfully slow step merely serves to underscore its vital importance.

In December 2012, I published a blog on The Huffington Post called “The Beginning of the End for Child Marriage,” when it looked like the Parliament of Malawi would finally vote to raise the national legal age of marriage. Now, three years later, the bill has finally passed and the hard work of implementation begins, in a country where more than half of teenage girls drop out of school and are married before Continue reading

How To Create Purposeful Organizations, from Frederic Laloux

This post is a part of our series of Book Summaries, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books. The following has been modified from Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations, 2014. This book helped to inspire and inform the self-management structure of Converge.

Download our full 12-page summary of Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations here.

71RiX7p05oL“Can we create organizations free of the pathologies that show up all too often in the workplace? Free of politics, bureaucracy, and infighting; free of stress and burnout; free of resignation, resentment and apathy, free of the posturing at the top and the drudgery at the bottom? Can we create soulful workplaces – schools, hospitals, businesses and nonprofits – where we can shed our mask and where our talents can blossom and our callings can be honored?

At both the top and bottom, organizations are more often than not playfields for unfulfilling pursuits of our egos, inhospitable to the deeper yearnings of our souls. They regularly separate the professional from the personal, and historically offices have been places where people must show up wearing a mask, expected to behave in certain pre-determined, acceptable ways.

Unsurprisingly, a recent poll of 32,000 workers in the corporate sector across 29 countries found that only about a third of people are engaged in their work (35%) while many more are “detached” or actively “disengaged” (43%). The remaining 22% feel “unsupported.”

So what would it take to reinvent organizations, to devise a new model of “Tier 2 Organizations” that makes work productive, fulfilling and meaningful?

Continue reading

The 3 Core Capabilities of System Leaders, from Senge, Hamilton & Kania

Winter_2015_GP

This post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from the writings of Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton and John Kania, The Dawn of System Leadership, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2015. 

“The good leader is he whom the people revere. The great leader is he of whom the people say, “We did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu

We face a host of systemic challenges beyond the reach of existing institutions and their hierarchical authority structures. Problems like climate change, destruction of ecosystems, growing scarcity of water, youth unemployment, and embedded poverty and inequity require unprecedented collaboration among different organizations, sectors, and even countries.

The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society’s most intractable problems require a unique type of leader – the system leader, a person who catalyzes collective leadership.

Systems leaders develop the ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves, encouraging others to be more open as well. They re-contextualize organizational self-interest, as people discover that their and their organization’s success depends on creating well-being within the larger systems of which they are a part.

Transforming systems is ultimately about transforming relationships among people who shape those systems. Therefore, effective systems leaders work to build relationships based on deep listening, allowing networks of trust and collaboration to flourish.

There are three core capabilities that system leaders develop in order to foster collective leadership.

  1. See the larger system In any complex setting, people typically focus their attention on the parts of the system most visible from their own vantage point. This usually results in arguments about who has the right perspective on the problem. Getting the right people in the room and helping them see the larger system is essential to building a shared understanding of complex problems. This understanding enables collaborating organizations to jointly develop solutions not evident to any of them individually and to work together for the health of the whole system rather than just pursue symptomatic fixes to individual pieces.
  1. Foster reflection and generative conversations – Continue reading

5 Ways to Spark New Ideas, from Marty Neumeier

This post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from the writings of Marty Neumeier, The Skill of the Century: Dreaming, Rotman Magazine, Fall 2014. 

“Innovation is evolution by design.”

spark ideasIn periods of great change like the one we’re living through right now, one of the most important skills to possess is imagination.

It turns out that when people talk about ‘dreaming up’ an idea, they’re not far from the truth: imagination has been closely linked to dream states. Once we learn the ‘trick’ of dreaming – of disassociating our thoughts from the linear and the logical – we can become wellsprings of originality.

To innovate, you need to move from the known to the unknown. You also need to hold on to you beliefs lightly so that what you believe doesn’t block the view of what you might find out. The number-one hazard for innovators is getting stuck in “the tar pits of knowledge”. While knowledge can free us to imagine new-to-the-world ideas, it can also trap us into believing opportunities are smaller than they are.

Five strategies that can help trigger new ideas:

  1. Think in Metaphors – Thinking about problems metaphorically moves your thinking from the literal to the abstract, so you can more freely on a different plane.

Continue reading

6 Ways to Make Groups Smarter, from Sunstein & Hastie

This post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been adapted from the writings of Cass Sunstein & Reid Hastie, Making Dumb Groups Smarter, Harvard Business Review, December 2014. 

The Problem

Groups often fail to live up to their potential as decision-making bodies. Instead of aggregating the knowledge and wisdom of their members, they end up making bigger errors than individuals would.

Why It Happens

Group members take informational signals from what others say, even when the information is wrong or misleading. Reputational pressures can cause them to silence themselves or change their views in order to fit in. As a result, groups often amplify errors, stampede towards bad decisions, foment polarization and extremism, and ignore information that isn’t widely held.

The Solution

Leaders can structure group deliberations to make them more likely to succeed. Continue reading

Strengthen & Grow Your Network with Social Network Analysis

NLN-Network-MapNetworks are proving to be powerful catalysts for aligning stakeholders and tackling wicked problems of all kinds.

But how can networks be evaluated and analyzed? And how can we strategically shape and navigate our networks to align with our goals?

Today, new techniques are emerging that allow us to map and analyze networks and systems in a clear, visually engaging layout. Continue reading

The 5 Common Characteristics of Successful Community Change Efforts, from The Aspen Institute

Fresno pic copyThis post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been modified from The Aspen Institute’s publication “Voices from the Field III: Lessons and Challenges from Two Decades of Community Change Efforts”, available here for free download. 

The accomplishments of place-based community change efforts over the past two decades have been mixed – most can show improvements in the well-being of individual residents who participated in programs in their target neighborhoods, some produced physical change through housing production and rehabilitation, some reduced crime, and a few also sparked commercial development. Most can demonstrate increased neighborhood capacity in the form of stronger leadership, networks, or organizations, or in improved connections between the neighborhood and external entities in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. A few can point to accomplishments in policy and systems reform.

However, while these are important outcomes, most of the interventions have not produced the degree of community transformation envisioned by their designers, Continue reading

The Best Of: Rotman, Fall ’14 – The Search for Effective Innovation

rotman fall 2014We know you probably don’t have time to read through full magazines, so we read them for you. This month we summarize the best of: Rotman Management Magazine, Fall 2014, with a focus on effective innovation.

Rotman has long been one of our favorite publications, with many thought-provoking articles and interviews on design thinking, psychology, consulting, behavioral economics and neuroscience. You can subscribe here – we guarantee your thinking will be sharpened as a result.

The Innovator’s Challenge, Dilip Soman

In the US alone, estimates suggest that as many as 75% of all new product launches fail. The latest research shows that efforts to solve social problems have focused too narrowly on developing solutions and not sufficiently enough on developing a rich understanding of the process that individuals use to adopt solutions. Real consumers are Continue reading

Thinking About Design – A Framework for Tackling Wicked Problems

The Design Cycle

I visited the Stanford d.school in 2013 while Systems Director of the Irvine Foundation New Leadership Network to practice Design Thinking as a methodology for tackling the challenges faced by the city of Fresno, California. Since then, I have found Design Thinking to be a particularly effective framework for thinking about and making progress against complex, wicked problems.

In 1967 the late design theorist Horst Rittel described wicked problems as a “class of social system problems which are ill-formulated, where the information is confusing, where there are many clients and decision makers with conflicting values, and where the ramifications in the whole system are thoroughly confusing.” Wicked problems are not a recent phenomenon – but new strategies have recently emerged for solving them.

Strategy & design complement each other well. “The trick is to apply the strengths of design thinking to those of strategy in specific ways,” notes Kingshuk Das in his Rotman Magazine article, Finding the Sweet Spot Between Strategy and Design.Design will help to open up new possibilities, and strategy will help you choose between them.

To provide a quick primer on Design Thinking, developed and popularized by David Kelley & IDEO, I synthesized the key passages from the Stanford d.school’s Design Thinking Process Guide, with commentary based on my experience as a practitioner with Converge:

Empathize – As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own. Instead, they are the problems of a particular group of people. In order to design for that group of people, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. Learn to see things from their eyes.

Empathy is the centerpiece of the human-centered design process. It is the work you do to understand people, including the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about the world, and what is meaningful to them, all within the context of your design challenge.

If you don’t initially have time to engage with real users before ideating & prototyping, try this powerful empathy exercise to bring the whole system in the room, designed by my Converge colleague and friend David Sawyer: Arrange participant chairs back-to-back in a line, so nobody is facing another person. Then dim the lights and have participants think about one person affected by the system that they want to bring into the room, in a way that honors and doesn’t trivialize them.

Have participants begin with “I am a _____” and continuing briefly to describe that person’s experience in the context of the system you are trying to influence. Once all participants have finished, debrief as a group what you have illuminated about the system, and who was missing from the exercise.

Define – It is your responsibility as a design thinker to define the challenge you are taking on, based on what you have learned about your user and about the context. The goal of the Define stage is to craft a meaningful and actionable problem statement. Crafting a more narrowly focused problem statement tends to yield both greater quantity and higher quality solutions when you are generating ideas.

I have found that it sometimes makes sense to begin the Design Cycle process at the Define stage if you already have a loose idea of what you are trying to solve. This will help focus your Empathy activities. Then, you can return to the Define stage and refine your problem definition if necessary.

Ideate is the process of “going wide” to transition from identifying problems to creating solutions for your users. It’s about pushing for the widest possible range of ideas from which you can select, not simply finding a single, best solution. The determination of the best solution will be discovered later, through user testing and feedback.

To select which of your ideas to prototype, David Sawyer and I developed an “ID Analysis” (Impact x Doability) tool to prioritize your actions. Have participants or groups write each idea on a sticky note and place that idea on the matrix above. Ideas in the upper-right quadrant should be prioritized for prototyping.

Prototype – Once you select your highest-potential-impact solutions, create low-resolution prototypes that are quick and cheap to make but can elicit useful feedback from users and colleagues. A prototype can be anything that a user can interact with, to help test possibilities and stimulate emotions and responses from the user that you can use to refine your solutions.

Who the “user” is depends on the problem you’re trying to solve. In the education system, your users are likely students or teachers; in the health system users may be patients or health professionals. It is important to define early on in the Empathy stage who your “user” is.

Test – Always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong. Testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better. Solicit feedback about the prototypes you have created within the real context of the user’s life. Continue to ask “Why?” and focus on what you can learn about the person and the problem as well as your potential solutions.

In the Test stage, it is absolutely essential to leave the building and go out into the real world to interact and test your prototype with real people. As Steve Blank, a successful serial entrepreneur and my former professor at Stanford University likes to say, “your first idea will always be wrong.”

Repeat – Iteration is a fundamental of good design. Iterate both by cycling through the process multiple times, and also by iterating within a step – for example by creating multiple prototypes or trying variations of a brainstorming topic with multiple groups.

Once you have developed a prototype that tests positively with users, you can repeat the entire process with the goal of designing for scale. This will include a greater consideration of different user groups and contexts, a stronger emphasis on resource and capacity constraints, and a larger testing sample size. You should also consider a portfolio strategy where you test multiple potential solutions simultaneously to find the most effective combination.

The Design Cycle process never ends – rather, you should continue to refine your solution relentlessly, for wicked problems will inevitably evolve beyond the scope of your original solution.

The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, from Roger Martin

This post is a part of our Think Piece series, in which we synthesize and share the most insightful concepts from our favorite books, articles & thought leaders. The following has been modified from the writings of Roger Martin, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, Harvard Business Review, January 2014. 

“Customers and context are both unknowable and uncontrollable.”

In 1978 Henry Mintzberg published an influential article in Management Science that introduced emergent strategy, a concept he later popularized for the wider nonacademic business audience in his successful 1994 book, The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. Mintzberg’s insight was simple but indeed powerful. He distinguished between deliberate strategy, which is intentional, and emergent strategy, which is not based on an original intention but instead consists of the company’s responses to a variety of unanticipated events.

Mintzberg’s thinking was informed by his observation that managers overestimate their ability to predict the future and to plan for it in a precise and technocratic way. By drawing a distinction between deliberate and emergent strategy, he wanted to encourage managers to watch carefully for changes in their environment and make course corrections in their deliberate strategy accordingly. In addition, he warned against the dangers of sticking to a fixed strategy in the face of substantial changes in the competitive environment.

THE PROBLEM

In an effort to get a handle on strategy, managers spend thousands of hours drawing up detailed plans that project revenue far into the future. These plans may make managers feel good, but all too often they matter very little to performance. Continue reading