“Many of us live in a highly institutionalised world that, on the one hand, provides us with many of our everyday needs and wealth; yet, on the other hand, it deprives and restricts others and creates a host of unintended negative side effects. Our carbon-based energy system, for example, creates mobility and heats our houses, yet it also creates climate instability and geopolitical risks. Our education systems realise the fundamental right to education, and embodies the pursuit of human potential. However, they also produce workers for a 20th century industrial economy who often burn out or otherwise fail to find satisfaction in a knowledge society. Our healthcare systems extend lives, but they are not financially sustainable, nor do they necessarily improve quality of lives.
These massive systems seem like skyscrapers—powerful, enduring, and rigid structures that dominate the landscape. And yet these skyscrapers must somehow evolve and change to create space for the new and better system that wants to be born.”
This is an excerpt from Labcraft, a book I co-authored with seven other Lab leaders from around the world. The book features stories largely of the commonalities between our work and gives a sense of an emerging movement towards solving systemic challenges through experimentation.
My key insights from the experience were as follows:
- We bring knowledge from different worlds and end up with a similar process. Some of our strategies are steeped in the U Process and Art of Hosting methodology, others come take Agile or Design Thinking as a starting point. Others still focus on incubation where the thinking has emerged from the social enterprise movement. In the end we all bring whatever we have in our toolkit to the problem, letting go of things that don’t work quickly and borrowing ideas from related fields. We merge them all together, juggle them around and come out with something that belongs in a field of its own.
- Everyone finds collaboration hard. Merging organisational boundaries and bringing disparate cultures together is not easy.
- We all experiment our way into solutions. None of us set out with extremely clear idea about how our work would change things, but we kept iterating; acting, reflecting and learning our way to success.
- Measuring impact is also tricky. We start without knowing how our strategy will emerge. We are nimble and adapt to the feedback we get from our activities, so it’s almost impossible to identify what our impact will look like before we begin.
- Working inside and outside the system takes humility. We need resources from the incumbent systems we are trying to change. This means we need to be as comfortable with the activists and the entrepreneurs as we are the heads of industry and government, choosing language carefully and being comfortable with holding the range of views is a key skill for system changers.
Labcraft was written in a four-day “Book Sprint” which was an experience in itself. 14 of us in total holed up in a house in Stratford-Upon-Avon for five days. Miraculously we managed to produce a book at the end of it, through the firm but fair efforts of our facilitator Adam, founder of the BookSprint idea and with the help of Hendrik Tiesinga who convened us all.