now taught in junior highs and high school throughout the U.S. That is a success, right? But now what? It’s a really interesting question. If you can take it out of a re-
ally noble organization, look at something like Coke. So, Coke invents, essentially, the soft-drink industry. Now there are all these other people in the soft-drink industry. So what do you do? Does the Holocaust museum turn around and protect mar- ket share? Well, that’s not really its job. Its job is to, not turn around and look at the vertical it created and see all the people competing with it, but to turn to the future and say, “Okay, now what? Now what do we do for the next 20 years that all these people will follow again?” That’s a very hard conversation to have. It’s a hard conversation to have with your board, because you have schooled them in the status quo and incremental im- provement. It’s a hard conversation to have with your staff. So we convene a group of the smartest people we can find
and put them in the room. We’re not subject-matter experts at all — that’s central to this. We don’t have a direct stake in what’s going on, and that allows us the objectivity to have a fundamen- tally different conversation.
How do you choose the people who participate? It’s more art than science. When it first started, I reached out to my smartest friends and then a couple of people I wish were my smartest friends. After that, it was people that I had admired. As we do this more and more and I have a higher and higher pro- file, obviously we have a broader and broader pool. I’ve been traveling a lot more lately and speaking at conferences and the like, and in doing so I inevitably meet several people that I think ought to be [part of a session].
“We convene a group of the smartest people we can find and put them in the room. We’re not subject-matter experts. We don’t have a direct stake in what’s going on, and that allows us the objectivity to have a fundamentally different conversation.”
Where do you see this model going? When you spend a lot of time around businesspeople, they ask that question all the time. What they’re really asking is, how do you scale? Because in business, the conventional move is that if you have a hamburger joint that does well, then you should open eight others. And that isn’t the answer in this case, we don’t believe. We believe that what we need to scale is the im- pact that we’re having: When we started we had 20 people in the room and we made an impact on an organization. Now we still have 20 people in the room, but we have the opportunity — a bully pulpit — to reach a much broader audience, because our profile is higher, because the folks in the room have their own bully pulpits.
72 pcma convene January 2012 We have [a director of content] who produces content every
day for Insight Labs by interviewing participants, by interview- ing the people we work with, by interviewing thought leaders out there in social change about specific questions. And this al- lows us to ratchet up the impact that we have. So for us, scal- ing is about impact. It is conceivable that we could do one lab in a year but have it be so impactful, have it address and begin to untangle a problem that faces everybody, and have it be the most impactful thing we’ve ever done. It’s not frequency; it’s not quantity. It’s impact. So that’s how we think about it. There are finite [programs] we can do every year — it’s just
the nature of the beast. And we have said to ourselves, we’re only going to do this for X amount of time. It has forced on us a thoughtfulness, a seriousness, that we don’t have time to screw around here; we’ve got to get it right. And that’s a really inter- esting exercise. You don’t see organizations form themselves to say, “[We’re] going to be around for eight years. We’ve got to make it count.” We are a nonprofit foundation, and our goal is to put our-
selves out of business. I’ve had a major foundation that you’ve heard of come to me and say, “Listen, in the interest of full dis- closure, we want to steal your idea.” And my answer is, I will write down all the rules and everything I know about it, and give it to you; you don’t have to steal it. I believe that this is a form of philanthropy that is sorely miss-
ing, and by that I mean that the highest and best use of the best and the brightest may not be simply check-writing. It may be being the best and the brightest to solve social challenges. That is the fundamental premise on which this sits. There is a very high-profile corporation out there that I met with several years ago who bragged to me about their [community-service] day, when all 11,000 employees across the country put on matching T-shirts and got on buses and went downtown and cleaned up parks in their various cities. And I said, “That doesn’t strike me as the highest, best use of all of those MBAs. I think that’s great that you cleaned up parks. I think they ought to clean up parks in their free time. If your company wants to change the world and wants to make an impact, then you ought to do it by lever- aging all that talent. You ought to pick a problem like the Ninth Ward [in New Orleans] — I don’t care what it is — and then say, ‘We’re going to fix that.’ Don’t worry about parks. Because there are a lot of people that clean up parks, but not everybody knows how to do what you guys know how to do.” n
u Christopher Durso is executive editor of Convene. www.pcma.org