Creating Breakout Innovation
By Joanna Levitt Cea, Thousand Currents Buen Vivir Fund Director
In 2015, the year before I joined the Thousand Currents team, I started a rather unusual research project. With my long-time friend and colleague, Jess Rimington (managing director at /The Rules), we decided to investigate a question: What does it take for groups working co-creatively to deliver the most innovative solutions?
Right now in our sector, most organizations, foundations and agencies are operating in ways that are a far cry from co-creation. In fact, for me, a big reason I was so excited to join the Thousand Currents team was that it was frequently mentioned by other groups interviewed in our research, as one of the few “bright spots” of foundations working with a co-creation approach.
Most groups in our sector still leave it to “the experts” to decide what “the beneficiaries” need, what will be best for them, and how to deliver it. They assume that it is the job of certain kinds of people, with certain qualifications, to help. And it is the job of other people, with other kinds of experiences, to receive that help.
Jess and I had a hunch that this way of work was massively limiting what humans are able to do at this time on earth. Because, let’s think about it: As we face “wicked problems” like climate change, extreme inequality, and poverty, wouldn’t it be better if we worked in ways that unleashed everyone’s creative capacity and leadership? Rather than just the few who happen to pass for “experts” in today’s world?
We wanted to see if we could identify how some instances of profoundly co-creative approaches to problem solving led to results that dramatically outperformed their fields. We were curious about the common “code”, so to speak, of practices that all these groups were using to achieve these breakout results.
Jess and I approached the Global Projects Center at Stanford University to share our questions, and the Center offered its support to our learning journey, and brought us on as visiting researchers through 2018.
We made a commitment at the outset that our learning journey would itself be co-creative. We wouldn’t have the usual separation between “researchers” and “subjects.” Instead, as we identified groups working in co-creative, breakout ways, we would invite them to join our “co-learning group,” to shape the research aims, analysis, and products.
Two years later, we are in awe of what we have learned from our co-learning group, and how powerful the learning journey has been. The “code” of practices we found across groups has emerged loud and clear. We call it: the recollective way.
The five practices of the recollective way are shared in this feature story of the current issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review, already out in print and just published this week online.
I am honored to share this article with my Thousand Currents community and all of you who have contributed to this learning journey.
For me, the research journey of this project has been closely interwoven with the tremendous learning I have had from being part of the Thousand Currents team and working with our partners around the world to co-create the Buen Vivir Fund. I realized that, for many groups in the U.S., the recollective way is something that is unfamiliar and must be (re)learned. But for our Thousand Currents partners, and the communities and social movements with which they work, the practices of this powerful way of work are something in which they are extremely skilled, and which they carry forward from generations of innovators and leaders.
As the wicked problems facing our planet loom large and more urgent than ever, it is time to turn to those who excel in the recollective way, and learn deeply from their practices.