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How often do you read about an innovation or see a documentary about some breakthrough in science or development and wonder, “how did they come up with that?” Well, sometimes it is about dogged determination around a clear vision, but often it is about looking outside of your regular network, challenging yourself, being open to new connections, new ideas that allows you to come up with a new solution.

Some people call this being mindful – which is just a trendy new way of saying scan the horizon, be aware of who and what is going around you and in society and always be curious.

I had a client once who recruited an unusual man to be their country director. Unusual in that he didn’t really act or operate the way development professionals usually do. He took the opportunity presented by a particularly chaotic period where donor grants were finishing and project teams were leaving to flatten the hierarchy of the organisation, renegotiate significantly the terms of the remaining donor grants and to attract new donors who were prepared to work in different ways with this organisation. The country director read widely, often about organisational development trends way outside the civil society sector and understood that civil society could learn from the way other sectors operated. He was curious enough to look for other solutions and humble enough to know that civil society isn’t always ‘all good’.

He transformed the organisation. Developed a new way of managing donor relations based on investment models he’d seen elsewhere. He developed radically revised products based on private sector focus group techniques that resulted in higher adoption rates of the organisation’s services and products and got them closer to the household and community level as a result and ensured that his team were empowered and motivated to take decisions and actions without a huge bureaucracy overhead.

I have never seen anything quite like this organisation before or since. Some of the ideas he was working with are slowly coming through in other parts of the sector, but in much watered down forms that don’t challenge existing structures. And what of this man? He’s moved on, he’s worked with mobile technology to improve beneficiary engagement in programme design and now works with Blockchain technology to improve the quality of impact of development initiatives at scale. There is no stopping the guy!

How often do you get the chance to look outside your network and challenge yourself with new ideas or narratives? How much time do you set aside for creative thinking?


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