February 3, 2016

Recommended Reads: February 2016

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This list takes a look at articles, research, books, and more that are bringing new insights to the pursuit of impact at a transformative scale. This month we share thoughts around disruptive strategies, platforms as a way to massively scale services, a low-tech approach to achieving scale, and more.

We’re always looking for resources that bring new insights to the pursuit of impact at a transformative scale. Here are five interesting pieces we came across recently:

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  1. Patterns of disruption: Anticipating disruptive strategies in a world of unicorns, black swans, and exponentials: Deloitte’s John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and colleagues explore disruptive dynamics in industry “in light of evolving underlying technologies, shifting consumer dynamics, the rise of platforms, and other changes in the global environment.” Most of the article is oriented around understanding and defending against threats, but it also can serve as a playbook on how to disrupt and achieve transformative scale. Something to ponder: it took radio 38 years to reach 50 million people; with Angry Birds, just 35 days!

  2. Can we end female genital cutting in a generation?: Tostan is an amazing story of transformative scale, in part because its approach does NOT rely on technology. This World Economic Forum piece highlights key aspects of Tostan’s important effort to change the social norms underlying female genital cutting worldwide. Their model relies on skillfully facilitated community conversations, with remarkable results in West Africa. If you’re interested in learning more, the book However Long the Night follows Tostan’s development through the extraordinary leadership of Molly Melching.

  3. Everything That Can Become a Platform Will Become a Platform: Robin Chase, the cofounder of Zipcar, envisions a new rulebook for business that favors “exponential scaling, exponential learning, and very low cost innovation and localization.” She illuminates how platforms work—or could work—to massively scale services and what the implications might be for participants in the platform. If you’re interested in considering different futures that might be possible with platforms, it’s also worth reading “How Platform Coops Can Beat Death Stars Like Uber to Create a Real Sharing Economy.”

  4. The End of the Capitalist Era, and What Comes Next: In an excerpt from his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, Jeremy Rifkin argues that “markets are beginning to give way to networks, ownership is becoming less important than access, and the traditional dream of rags to riches is being supplanted by a new dream of a sustainable quality of life.” In this vision of the world, the path to transformative scale may in some ways be easier—given zero marginal cost. Still to be determined: where the models apply, how they are capitalized, and who benefits.

  5. Imagine (Government): Building a New Blueprint: Many of the pathways to scale run through government. It is the hoped-for take-out player for many a social entrepreneur or developer of a pilot program. But the promise of transformative scale via government won’t be fulfilled until government is more powerfully driven by results—differentially rewarding and spreading “what works.” We’ll also need to strengthen our ability to learn and improve performance within big government systems. For those interested in this topic, the work and reports of Results for America are worth following, as is the recent What Works Cities initiative by Bloomberg Philanthropies. And for a powerful example see this recent “No Place for Kids” TEDx Talk by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Patrick McCarthy, in which he  calls for closing youth prisons—and turning “best practice” into “common practice.”
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