Metta Roundtable: From Sustainable Development Goals to Impact?

I attended a very interesting closed-door roundtable this week – hosted by the startup-savvy Metta team in Hong Kong. The topic was both challenging and difficult to develop: how to turn the Sustainable Development Goals (promoted by the UN) into practical and measurable Impact?

I attended a very interesting closed-door roundtable this week – hosted by the startup-savvy Metta team in Hong Kong. The topic was both challenging and difficult to develop: how to turn the Sustainable Development Goals (promoted by the UN) into practical and measurable Impact?

As a quick reminder, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in 2015 to try and solve some of the most pressing issues on Earth. The point by then was to create a general dynamic, of course, but the initiative also had the merits of providing practical directions for governments, businesses, social enterprises and NGOs to focus on and invest in. For instance, goal number one relates to ending poverty, two deals with zero hunger, three is health, fourth is education, so forth and so on.

Metta Roundtable From Sustainable Development Goals to Impact

The question which was discussed at the Metta Roundtable was both simple and ambitious: how do we make these goals more than just goals, and how do we turn them into a reality of some sort?

Unsurprisingly, the question led to more questions (and insights). For instance, how do we make sure that business actually pays attention and gets involved, so that ultimately social Impact isn’t just a matter of governments doing the work. At the same time, how do we make sure that what the business does is effectively a matter of making an Impact and not just a matter of greenwashing (or Impact-washing).

Sustainable Development Goals vs Impact benchmarking.

The participants to the roundtable came from various backgrounds – large multinational corporations, NGO, financial firms, academia (me, in fact), you name it. Despite such variety, nonetheless, the topic which naturally came up first was benchmarking and the ability to measure sustainability, whether from an Impact or progress perspective.

For NGOs, benchmarking the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals turned out to be very different. One participant, in particular, mentioned a rather simple questionnaire which helps to know what people need and whether the work fulfills that need in the long-run. In that case, the benchmarking thus takes place on a small – individual or group – basis because small scale is the best way to collect data and make the assessment both objective and sharp.

For a large multinational group, however, benchmarking progress was a rather daunting task, with an operating model based on sustainability and CSR documents written to fulfill an increasingly demanding need. This is not to say that the group at stake wasn’t into building sustainability. This is to say that – at their scale – the idea of being sustainable is easier said than done and Impact Thinking tends to be a matter of looking at what subsidiaries are good at doing.

The issue of defining Impact and sustainability.

Next came the issue of defining what Impact and being sustainable means. Again, differences appeared depending on the nature of the organization and the scale of their activities.

What is the purpose of Impact and sustainability?

For an NGO, Impact is about making a difference, now and in the future, to change things and move from bad to better, in a sustainable way. There, sustainable means that the operating model will be able to persist in the long-term.

For a large group, Impact is rather about creating a more sustainable operating model and reducing the negative aspects of the existing processes.

Interestingly, some participants discussed in great length the idea that Impact was easily environmental but more complex to apprehend from a social perspective – if only because there are no agreed standards relevant to social Impact valuation.

Interestingly – again – another point was made as to the relevance or irrelevance of Impact for certain publics. Whilst large groups see Impact Thinking as a matter of aligning their operations with best (or better) practices, the point was made that in the finance world, investors rarely ask about sustainable models and never ask about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. That’s to the exclusion of Impact investors, obviously, but the big picture is still there.

The problem of Impact (and Impactful) communication.

The topic of communication also came up as being sensitive.

On the one hand, sustainability efforts are largely made public through Corporate Social Responsiblity (CSR) reports which highlight signs of progress and results. On the other hand, these efforts are also mostly made public through these reports, which means that communication is limited.

In the same way that I have done a lot of work pushing professors to turn their research publications into real-world results and change, the work produced to build a CSR document ought to be disseminated beyond that document. Failing which, change is merely a reporting thing, and ultimately whether it really happens or not doesn’t make much of a difference.

The role of Impact strategy-building.

For most participants, ultimately, the message ended-up being that benchmarking performance is overall very difficult. Not to say “virtually impossible”.

In many cases, the best way to actually measure Impact is not to make an actual Impact but to design and develop default strategies and protocols meant to highlight positive evolutions – whether they are expected or not – depending on the various expectations and KPIs which flow from the various policy initiatives out there.

Issue: sustainability KPIs and Impact targets aren’t the same.

There is a major difference, however, between blue sky box-ticking expectations, KPIs and Impact.

While KPIs and tick-boxes are used to show that groups and entities of all sorts have done things the best they could in line with industry or international standards, a secondary message emerged that what really matters is whether we set up some clear Impact goals from the beginning. Without a clear Impact project, KPIs become meaningless indicators which become risky from a greenwashing perspective.

For instance? Well, in a city like Hong Kong the amount of plastic containers which ends up in the landfill is both massive and scary. So people have developed various KPIs to try and measure the efforts made towards reducing pollution. Yet the discussion led to the idea that one fundamental question was missing from the equation. What Impact do we really (yes, really) want to achieve?

Do we want to increase the amount of plastic that is being recycled? That option A. Or would we rather promote a model in which plastic bottles are not used anymore? That’s option B. Or do we want to develop a viable economic system in which plastic is produced to then be recycled as part of a supply and re-supply loop type of supply chain?

Of course, in both cases the purpose is to reduce pollution and counting the number of recycled bottles helps to highlight a reduction of waste. What we have there, however, is a performance indicator more than an Impact indicator. The real question, ultimately, ought to be this one: what is the real Impact we want to achieve?

Said differently, defining an Impact goal creates a whole new opportunity to change the world. Having an Impact frame means that there is an agenda people can relate to and refer to, which in turns helps to build meaningful KPIs (which I actually call Key Impact Indicators) and, perhaps even more importantly, a common language which can then be shared with like-minded actors and future partners. This is the message that I have been pushing for over a year at CUHK for a year now, and I’m glad to see that there is echo out there.

Some room for partnership-building.

The roundtable discussion ended on a very positive tone: collaboration.

Collaboration and the development of partnerships are actually one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, so the point made sense.

Beyond the anecdote, however, it became visible that the ability to engage in multi-sector discussion was a major way to move on. Because one way or another multinational groups, universities, Impact investors and NGOs of all sides can all learn from one another. And that, hopefully, could become an interesting way to develop a sustainable way to Impact our worlds. To be continued.

 

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Discussing Impact Incubators with Prof David Shirk, University of San Diego

The notion of ‘Impact Incubators’ came up recently, as part of a lunch discussion with Professor David Shirk from the University of San Diego. This short article restitutes some of the big ideas which I wanted to remember from the meeting. Keep reading!

The notion of ‘Impact Incubators’ came up recently, as part of a lunch discussion with Professor David Shirk from the University of San Diego. This short article restitutes some of the big ideas which I wanted to remember from the meeting. Keep reading!


University business got me to San Diego this summer, so I took some time to meet some of the people who drive the Impact developments of the city’s two main Universities. Among these people was David Shirk, Professor of Political Sciences and International Relations and Director of the University’s Masters Program in International Relations.

I wanted to meet David for two main reasons.

One, he received an International Impact Award from the University of San Diego in 2016 for his work on Justice in Mexico, so I wanted to learn more about his approach to Impact and explore with him the question of how research could become more Impactful.

Two, the University of San Diego and the UC San Diego University both have a Changemaker program, so I wanted to understand to what extent driving change and Impact was part of the local academic institutions’ DNA.

Well, my lunch meeting proved to be very interesting. Among the various ideas which have come out of our discussion, I particularly wanted to remember David’s suggestions that what mattered overall was to turn education centers and Universities into change and Impact Incubators. What an idea!

Thank you, David.

From research rationalization to Mindset development.

My first question to David went straight into the topic. I wanted to know why and how the University of San Diego had gotten involved in Impact development, and his answer pointed me in a direction very similar to the one followed in Hong Kong: at first, the driver was somewhere in between intellectual development and research rationalization, with a strong focus on rationalization, however.

On the intellectual side of things, the University decided to invest in developing a philosophy oriented towards peace and justice, which naturally led to the idea of creating some change for cross-border communities.

At the same time, the University also realized that it had around thirty different research centers and institutes, which meant that one way or another resource allocation was neither optimal or efficient. So the idea of a Changemaker Hub was introduced as a means to try and coordinate some of the Institution’s research efforts around social innovation and society Impact.

The project came from the AshokaU philosophy – the leading Institution for social innovation in higher education which for the past ten years has promoted the development of about 45 Changemaker Campuses and programs around the world. And it aimed at introducing some new entrepreneurial, teaching and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) mindset within the University of San Diego.

The goal was openly social, clearly, but David also insisted that the purpose was to make the innovation durable and sustainable. Said differently, thinking in terms of Impact development and problem-solving was a way to inject some entrepreneurial thinking into the University’s equation.

Market approach, but not only.

One of the ways used to develop such a mindset with the University consisted in creating social innovation challenges for the students. To put things simply, students would be invited to identify societal issues and to propose adequate solutions to those problems. However those solutions would need to be actionable, and they would need to be sustainable, that is reproducible in the long-term.

To develop their solutions, and for the past five years, the students have furthermore been invited to think in terms of market needs and ventures, but they have also been encouraged to pitch their projects outside campus, to try and create traction around their efforts.

The idea is very Impactful and is very much in line with the largely entrepreneurial mindset of the various San Diego Universities – from what I have seen and heard, at least – but David Shirk brought some nuance to the discussion by suggesting that Impact shouldn’t just be a matter of fostering entrepreneurial mindsets in a startup way.

Markets can solve problems what public inertia can’t solve, there is no doubt about that. Yet his point was that we also need to make sure that research is Impactful in non-market-oriented ways as well, for market won’t bother solving issues which normally fall under the realm of regalian functions.

Justice in Mexico as an example.

David’s research on Mexico / US cross-border Justice is a good example of that, quite obviously, and his Impact Award is a good proof of it.

The project started in the years 2000 as a rather academic project aimed at studying crime and violence in a US / Mexico context. As most academic projects, it led to a series of conferences and meetings, which in turn produced working papers which were disseminated with the public prior to being published in their final version through the normal publication process.

Doing this had a direct Impact on society. For starters, it helped with raising awareness with decision-makers and justice officials on both sides of the frontier, breaking some nasty myths and legends by the same token. But this applied research format also led to some consulting, which eventually increased the reach and Impact of the research by empowering the researchers with a public diplomacy role.

Beyond influencing decision makers, the Justice in Mexico project also made a positive contribution to society in that it helped to inform the public debate and to equip people with new and unbiased information which so far was unavailable and had thus led to both misinformation and misunderstandings.

Impactful research generating external funding.

An interesting aspect of Impactful research is that it increases the reach of the researchers, particularly from a financial perspective.

In the case of UC San Diego (the other San Diego University, for clarity), financial reach is obtained largely through tight connections and relationships with investors and Venture Capitalist (VC) firms, but in David’s case, the model isn’t economics-based so VC funding doesn’t apply. Still, the Justice in Mexico project is fully funded by non-university donors and government grants, which suggests that developing Impact is a very significant way of increasing access to research funds for Faculties.

This is not to say that having recourse to external funding is easy. These relationships can be tricky because they create fears that the researchers might lose their academic independence, for starters. More significantly, they also force academics to think differently, in terms of value creation for the external funders – which obviously is a tricky exercise that academics are not used to putting into place.

Impact is a dynamics which needs to be nurtured.

The discussion with David eventually led to the question of dynamics. Creating a mindset is great, but as I’ve written in the past, a mindset needs to be nurtured and turned into a process in order to become sustainable.

In the case of the University of San Diego, David explained that an office is responsible for monitoring Impact, and regularly a prize is delivered to reward Impactful researchers and their outreach – whether these researchers are professors or students.

Recognizing Impact work.

“A prize? Awesome, but then what?”

The point can seem irrelevant, but in reality, the question of rewarding Impactful research is much more important than it seems.

Beyond the prize, what matters is the recognition that a researcher has made a major effort to change the world and make it a better place when others haven’t. In many cases, spending time (and money) on a project because of its impact is more than audacious, it is risky. Why? because it forces the researchers to operate outside of the usual context and to get outside of their comfort zone. It also pushes them to invest their energy in work projects which usually aren’t rewarded as far as career progression grids are concerned.

In short? Impact is often something which happens out of personal conviction. In many occasions, in fact, my discussions with researchers originating from various Institutions have led to the conclusion that University administrators expect a significant shift to be operated without creating any incentives to make that shift happen. In this case, the recognition therefore sends an important message.

Reach and institutional context.

Beyond the personal recognition factor, Impact rewards also represent an opportunity in terms of marketing and reach development for the researchers. In this case, for instance, David’s Impact led to an article in which I bumped online and which pushed me to get in touch.

Overall, the point for David was therefore to say that Impact creates an opportunity to develop a favorable research environment. Which also suggests that the research environment can benefit from an Impact Initiative provided that a favorable environment is created to create am Impact culture around the researchers.

Creating Impact Incubators for facilitating and fostering Impactful research.

The culture element was extremely important in David’s narrative, and he didn’t need to convince me that he had a point. In essence, the culture is at the heart of everything and it acts as the foundation of whatever you try to develop.

Ultimately, what you want as a University is not to push for Impact without following up on the project. Right? No. What you want is to create enthusiasm around the initiative, so that people decide to integrate the mindset. Not because they are asked to, but because they want to and because they see their interest in doing it.

At some point, developing Impact does require an ability and a willingness to develop your own reach, and that implies some work. First, being Impactful as researchers requires a form of personal strategy which needs to be encouraged and developed from an institutional perspective. Second, increasing one’s reach implies communication and outreach efforts which, clearly, create an additional workload that many people simply won’t be willing to take on. As it turns out, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, but you can give them some incentives to look at things differently…

So? Well, having the appropriate Impact culture in place is the beginning of the whole process. David called that “creating Impact incubators aimed at facilitating and fostering Impactful research”, and I thought the expression was brilliant. Let’s stick with it.

 

*** This note was written to transcribe my thoughts and conclusions following my discussion with Prof. Shirk and the conclusions formulated on this page remain my own. ***

 

 

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When Entrepreneurial Mindsets make Impactful Universities

What if bringing entrepreneurial mindsets in Universities helped turning research into Impactful research? The term ‘entrepreneurial mindset’ isn’t a bad word here. It mostly suggests that academic research should be used to solve real problems for real persons. This requires an important mindset shift, however, as well as some serious Impact strategy-building work. Not to forget the guts needed to make change happen, of course.


Note: This article was originally published as ‘When Entrepreneurial Mindsets make Impactful Universities’ on The Asia-Pacific Circle.

 

Today is the last day of a fantastic trip to San Diego, California. I was brought here as part of a training program organized by The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Knowledge Transfer Office in partnership with the UC San Diego University with a simple purpose: explore the topic of Impact and innovation with some of the most innovative minds out there.

I wasn’t sure about what to expect, to be honest. But the truth is that the last seven days have been value-packed as far as my Impact Thinking work is concerned.

Overall, the key insight I want to keep from this trip is that when it comes to building Impact in a University context, your best ally is clearly your ability to create and spread an entrepreneurial mindset in your institution. And all it takes is a willingness to build Impactful research and teaching strategies, a compelling message to communicate, a commitment to nurturing innovative ideas and teams way beyond existing practices, and guts to make change happen. For real, I mean.

Now, hold on, I can hear what you’re thinking right now. Academia and entrepreneurship are two very different things, and trying to mix both is like trying to turn a pony into a unicorn. It’s fun and the idea makes people laugh, but you can’t do it.

Well. I hear the argument. In fact, I hear it every day. But if you ask my opinion (thanks for reading by the way) I am convinced that it is wrong, wrong, and wrong again.

Universities can be innovative and entrepreneurial.

The idea that universities can’t be innovative and entrepreneurial is wrong. Period.

I’m not to be convinced of that, I challenge people every day to create some change out there. But to be very honest, the reality is that out there, in the real world, the perception that universities and academics are not innovative and not entrepreneurial is strongly anchored.

And that upsets me very, very, very much.

We are responsible.

This is bad news, but this is our fault. We are totally responsible for that negative perception that people have and the only way to change that is to bring some change into the model. The question is not whether we can do it. The question is whether we want to do it at all.

I wondered how far we could go, though, but this trip suggests that we can go very (very) far.

As far as UC San Diego is concerned, the entrepreneurial mindset has been developed at various every level, starting with decision-makers. At the Central University level, for instance, Chancellor Pradeep Khosla and Vice Chancellor Mary Walshok take a very realistic approach to things because they know too well that there is a massive difference between what professors and researchers want and what the University needs.

To say things simply, researchers want time and money, together with parking slots, time off for research and infinite funds without admins telling them no for this or that reason. But things don’t work like that and (as a general rule) research can’t just focus on research for the sake of research. Why? Because research-focused research leads to blue sky research and means that resources (time, money, human capital, and Impact capital) are invested the wrong way.

Like it or not, but Professors Khosla and Walshok are right. Research and teaching need to be real life-centered. Resources must be made available to support academic independence and to foster critical thinking, there isn’t the slightest doubt about that. But research needs to create an outcome, and that outcome needs to be Impactful.

Research must solve the problems that people face. Research must save lives. It needs to help people do better and live better. And it needs to support society and influence the way the world is developing by empowering policymakers to make the right decisions. Research simply can’t be something that we make for ourselves in an ivory tower. It needs to make an Impact beyond academia.

Mindset shift.

This, however, remains wishful thinking unless we, as Universities, academics and researchers, agree to take the idea into consideration and to operate a mindset shift.

I was saying earlier that UC San Diego worked on the issue at every level, and that clearly includes researchers and Professors too. Out there, the people who do the research are provided with support at every stage of the process.

They are encouraged to live with the idea that research needs to be Impactful, for starters. But they are also provided with a truly supportive ecosystem (rather than ego-system, see below) aligned with this idea.

The Rady School of Management is an example of that, and people such as Professor Vish Krishnan (thank you Vish, by the way) visibly do a fantastic job of helping and training others in realizing that a more entrepreneurial culture-development is at the core of things.

The management school, for instance, is connected to a variety of programs and institutes throughout the University, and it helps people to create bridges all over the place. Management means finance and entrepreneurship, so management connects with engineering, with medical research or with oceanography.

At the scientific level, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for instance turns research into real-life solutions and technology. Their research is not only practical, but it is also supported by the industry thanks to a Corporate Alliance program which ensures that researchers are highly connected to the industry at all times and don’t just depend on academic publications to let the world know about what they do.

The results are impressive! More joint research means more relevance, more practicality, more patents, more publicity, and more opportunities to change the world positively. Which is what we ought to achieve, right?

A strong culture is the basis.

The idea that we can go very (very) far is plausible and realistic. In fact, it is so realistic that it is already happening here and there. Particularly there, as a matter of fact. But the starting point should be the same everywhere. We should try and develop a strong entrepreneurial research culture focused around making a difference for an end-user. And here are some very concrete ideas which can be borrowed from the UC San Diego way.

Getting the real world inside Universities acting as powerhouses.

One way of doing things is to increase knowledge transfer from Universities to the outside world. Typically, that goes through the use of patents and IP rights development and protection, which is very important. Yet, what comes out of every mouth at UC San Diego is that merely investing in patents isn’t enough, because patents are not the real source of representation, influence, and money. So we need more.

Think about it.

Would you rather have a big slice of a small cake or a small slice of a big cake?

The question is not that silly… In fact, it is asked by every young entrepreneur out there. Should I talk about my idea? Aren’t they going to steal it from me? Ultimately, the clouds are full of ideas that people never use, so focusing on getting our ideas out there seems to be a good start.

What matters, in reality, is to turn Universities into powerhouses where knowledge is produced and made available to the world in reasonable ways at various stages of the process. UC San Diego and the Rady School of Management do that in multiple ways, which include bringing in residence entrepreneurs and investors alike but also creating numerous opportunities for interaction. Letting the world about the research we do is key!

It’s not just about patentable research, however.

Powerhouses aren’t just a matter of patentable research, however.

One big topic of discussion over this week was the nature of the research which can lead to Impact and, therefore, should be invested in. From a pragmatic perspective, it is clear that a piece of research which leads to developing a revolutionary microscope is worth investing into, because the patents which get produced out of it are palpable and can produce money. Maybe. At some point. Or not.

From a realistic perspective, however, our innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets can’t simply focus on engineering and palpable innovations because there are lots of ways in which more theoretical research topics can help making an Impact on society and communities.

For instance? Professor Mary Walshok gave us an immensely inspiring talk in which she explained how she – as a sociologist – had provided the industry with key insights as to how this community acted and interacted with that community. Ultimately, knowledge helps decision-makers to turn an educated guess into an informed decision, right? If so, then that suggests that non-patentable and non-palpable insights are gold.

Policy and law schools have the same role to play, because they can provide sharp analyses of past, current and future society problems which will need to be discussed at the policy and regulatory levels. So why don’t we invest in building ties with the real world on these aspects too? Why don’t we communicate openly on the influence we have? Why don’t we invest in building Impact incubators for our research?

In a fascinating talk, Director of Innovation Design Greg Horowitt went even further. How about developing a policy incubator where researchers of multiple disciplines would meet decision-makers on a regular basis to talk about fundamental society issues?

For instance, what does it mean to create a digital identity? That topic isn’t just about building tomorrow’s RFID chip! It can bring lawyers, sociologists, engineers in the same room, and when it does, it also opens a wide range of joint research opportunities! The same goes for the future of education, to cite but one more topic, but Greg threw plenty of immensely Impactful ideas here.

Innovation mindsets require innovation teams focused on innovating.

To get there, what we need is to push Universities to develop a more entrepreneurial mindset. And that implies making sure that Universities have innovation teams focused on innovating, beyond the patenting stage.

We need to invest in ideas here!

Again, Greg Horowitt got me to think about a lot of concepts which, I think, need to be explored and developed with a lot of ambition. For example, shifting “from an ego-system to an ecosystem” built around stakeholders is one method (oh yeah). But investing in speculative design thinking is also an idea that I have been pushing for a while.

As the Head of Impact at the CUHK Law Faculty, I have recently introduced a dose of Impact thinking into our work and the results are very (very) encouraging. For the research teams the exercise is rather surprising because post-its, smiling stickers and color markers aren’t really part of the research apparel, but as with entrepreneurs, the surprise is always positive.

See for yourself!

Some of the feedback I’ve received so far suggests that the method helps “consolidating the team’s objectives and goals … by creating a timeline to delineate how they will be met through self-assigned individual tasks”.

But those very entrepreneurial methods don’t stop there! They also help “identifying stakeholders who may be able to assist us in the (various) stages of the research” and they provided a means “to more concretely plan the type of outputs (we) can disseminate for the most effective impact”.

Oh, and perhaps more importantly, these methods help researchers to realize that there are many opportunities “to engage with beneficiaries throughout the research process as opposed to simply informing them of the findings and hope that they do something with it”.

Said differently? Developing an innovation mindset in Universities requires innovation teams focused on innovating.

Patents are important and the teams in charge of turning ideas into patents are strategic. But investing in innovative methods to equip researchers with an entrepreneurial mindset is the first stage in developing the knowledge which leads to patents. Let’s keep that in mind.

All it takes is guts, a commitment, and a compelling message.

The idea that Universities can’t be innovative and entrepreneurial is wrong, but it persists because it lives in three types of minds.

First, Senior Management teams are too often focused on building Universities which do good at research assessment exercises and rankings of all sorts, but in doing so they take the risk of forgetting that being relevant to the real world is extremely important for everyone. It helps to educate leaders and thus makes happy clients, it helps developing society and improves reputation, but it also helps with external funding and ultimately gets sharper results from a research perspective.

Second, the idea that innovative research models aren’t suitable lives in researchers minds. I make no judgment here, but because ranking pressure influences our work the reality is that academics are trained to think in terms of grant funding and paper publishing. And that leaves them very little room to focus on making a difference out there.

Third, the public often has a very negative perception that academics and universities aren’t relevant. Too far, not interested in real-world realities, not reactive, you name it.

Combine these three elements and see for yourself, the picture isn’t really bright. We need a new message here!

Equipping researchers with an entrepreneurial way of seeing things isn’t a bad word.

The next step is, therefore, to develop an entrepreneurial culture in University contexts. Once again, I can hear many people being upset with my message.

Hang on a minute, did you just say ‘a strong entrepreneurial culture’? But we’re academics, not entrepreneurs, why don’t you give us a break?

Here is the thing though. Talking about bringing in an entrepreneurial way of doing things isn’t a bad word and it is not a plague either.

Being entrepreneurial in your approach to doing things doesn’t mean that you need to get pressurized with numbers and results, that you need to do things industrially, or that you will lose your academic freedom. No. An entrepreneurial approach means that, by talking to people out there and by making your research relevant to society, you gain a massive opportunity to get your hands on questions which matter and need to be solved by niche experts. It’s all about building win-win partnerships, really, and the biggest risk you take as a researcher is to make your research stronger and sharper.

Planting seeds.

So what we need, clearly, is to plant seeds.

The senior management in many universities needs to open their eyes and realize that research needs to increasingly focus on being relevant to the world. The research community in general needs to stop hiding behind those preconceived ideas which suggest that academics can’t make a serious contribution out there and should not try and be relevant to the real world. And the public needs to start seeing academia not as being disconnected but as being a resourceful powerhouse. Because this is what it is.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that academic research is not relevant. I am saying that as long as it stays hidden into academic limbs, it simply cannot be relevant to people who have other things to do than exploring complex and expensive databases in order to figure out whether someone is working on a niche topic.

We are good at research, this is a fact. And we are excellent at producing niche research, this is another fact. What we are rarely good at it so put that niche research in front of the right eyes. Not only does it make a huge difference, but it also means that we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to make a difference.

As I wrote earlier, we are totally responsible for that negative perception that people have of academia, and the only way to change that is to bring some change into the model.

The question is not whether we can do it. The question is whether we want to do it at all.

There is a choice to make, that’s for sure, but in the real world out there entrepreneurial mindsets make Impactful Universities. All it takes is a willingness to build Impactful research and teaching strategies, a compelling message to communicate, a commitment to nurturing innovative ideas and teams way beyond existing practices, and guts to make change happen. Just saying.

 

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Boosting your Education Business with Impact Thinking

What if you could boost your education business with some Impact Thinking? Running an education business is a real challenge for entrepreneurs. Whether we like it or not, it requires reconciling profitability and knowledge transfer through the delivery of invaluable value. And that requires a lot of Impactful Thinking. The question is, how do you turn a business-as-usual education model into an innovative value proposition?

What if you could boost your education business with some Impact Thinking? Running an education business is a real challenge for entrepreneurs. Whether we like it or not, it requires reconciling profitability and knowledge transfer through the delivery of invaluable value. And that requires a lot of Impactful Thinking. The question is, how do you turn a business-as-usual education model into an innovative value proposition?

In this post, I have decided to share the insights which I offered to 45 education professionals during a talk organized with Campfire (Hong Kong) on the topic of education and business. More specifically: how to build a value proposition people are willing to pay for? Continue reading “Boosting your Education Business with Impact Thinking”

Supercharge your Value Proposition with Impact Thinking

Impact Thinking is a great way of seeing things differently but to go beyond the theory a little bit of practice help. In this article, I use three case studies to explore how adding a dose of Impact into your positioning can make a huge difference. Beware, you might bump into some real revelations here… Keep reading!

Impact Thinking is a great way of seeing things differently, particularly when it comes to developing your value proposition – as a business but also as a person. In this article, I use three case studies to explore how adding a dose of Impact into your positioning can make a huge difference. Beware, you might bump into some real revelations here… Keep reading!

 


There is something funny out there. Whenever I talk to people about Impact Thinking the answer is the same: “that sounds cool, but Nah, I can’t do it.” This is very wrong, of course, but the message is not that easy to pass on and people usually struggle with the idea that they (yes, they) can make a difference.

Yet, Impact Thinking is a super powerful tool, especially when it comes to defining (or refining) your vision and your value proposition, as an organization but also as an individual.

So, over the past few weeks, I’ve decided to document some Impact Thinking sessions to illustrate the fact that my message (YOU can make an Impact) is not only fully legit, it works.

These sessions took place with experts in strategy building, strategy implementation and culture change. And each of them led to the same conclusion: Impact Thinking is a super ingredient when it comes to building a strategy because it helps people, teams and businesses to formulate things that they have (somewhere) in their mind even though they are completely incapable of putting their finger on it.

As you will see in this article, adding a dose of Impact Thinking into your strategy-building work has major effects. One, it can help you differentiate what really matters to you (your real Why) from the usual cloud of general and boring industry pitfalls (your default Why). Two, and by doing so, it can also help you write a very compelling value proposition capable of solving real problems for your end-users.

Now, let’s get straight into the matter.

The first Impact case study of this article will tell you about how Impact Thinking helped to supercharge the value proposition of a business coach and strategist. The second will tell you about how the method impacted the profile of an international career development Director. And the third will focus on how Impact has created a paradigm shift for a high-caliber culture change consultant.

Want to find out more? Keep reading!

1. Being Impactful as an entrepreneurs’ coach.

The first Impact case study I want to talk about is that of Philippe, a business strategy coach specialized in helping entrepreneurs and executives with developing their businesses one (big) step further once their team reaches about fifteen people.

Philippe isn’t a random coach. As the Director Manager for Business Talents Asia, he is part of a growing business advisory firm and manages a small but efficient team dedicated to helping entrepreneurs. We’ve known each other for some time, we’ve written a couple of op-eds together, and he has recently started to work on the Impact Strategy I’m developing for the CUHK Law Faculty.

The case is interesting because although Philippe is a pro at building business strategies and value propositions, Impact Thinking was not part of his toolbox until I brought the topic to the table.

When discussing his business activity, he would usually deliver a pitch based on helping entrepreneurs figure out their problems and unlock their business potential. Yet, as far as his message was concerned, the narrative just sounded like selling a service.

From being unique to making an Impact.

You see, one of the points he keeps making with his clients is that you should always keep developing whatever makes you unique. The argument makes a lot of sense, and those of you who know a little bit about Blue Ocean Strategy methods know that in business a good way not to fight against the competition is to actually swim away from it.

The difficulty, of course, is to figure out how do you do that. Being unique isn’t really easy these days. With the internet and the digital economy, all businesses offer similar services and products, hence creating a demarcation is tough.

For Philippe, business was working well but something was missing in terms of vision and message. When we explored his vision, for instance, the issue which kept coming back was that coaching is often intangible for prospects. When you can’t see in advance what you are about to get for your money, anything becomes too expensive and risky. So? Well, his initial vision was that the industry needed change.

At first, the discussion accordingly focused on finding ways to build a business which could become perhaps more concrete and less expensive. In fact, the problem was rather general and faced by most coaches, so Philippe felt confident that the problem he needed to solve was legit.

In reality, however, that problem was essentially an industry problem and, as a result, the initial vision and value proposition of Philippe’s business both turned around accessibility and pricing.

There were two problems with this, however.

First, pricing talks are not very exciting and essentially get you into a hard sales process that nobody likes. Second, pricing and accessibility were Philippe’s problem, not his clients’, which meant that the vision and the value proposition were intrinsically limited. In fact, they just didn’t help to place him under the prospects’ radar.

Impact Thinking applied.

What that means is very simple: we needed to find the real motivation behind Philippe’s business activity that would help his prospects relate to the business. That one thing was obviously there, somewhere, and all we needed was to put our finger on it.

So we started introducing a dose of Impact Thinking into the business strategy discussion, and things changed rapidly. In fact, as soon as we discussed his business in terms of Impact, Philippe’s narrative changed completely.

I always say that making an Impact requires having a cause to fight for, but this is also the case when you work on building a value proposition. So we looked for a cause to fight for. Philippe works with entrepreneurs on a daily basis, therefore we explored his narrative from an entrepreneurship perspective and wondered what problems would increasingly be faced by entrepreneurs in the future.

Minutes later, we had identified a very specific type of beneficiary, as well as their very big problem. And that gave a whole new context to the business. Instead of trying to solve his own problem (I am not tangible enough for many prospects), Philippe identified a major challenge as well as a cause that people could relate to.

seek impact-proof value propositions they can relate to antoine martin

Meeting Philippe’s Impactful Value Proposition.

With more people losing their jobs and more young people struggling to do something with their lives, there will be tons of new entrepreneurs over the next decade(s). These entrepreneurs will not be trained entrepreneurs, however. They will be by-default entrepreneurs, who build businesses because they need to try and make a living somehow.

They won’t have the money to get themselves an MBA. And they won’t have a year (or more) to spend in class to learn theoretical business methods.

What they will need is plain and simple: easy, hands-on and actionable business methods based on industry best practices, which they will be able to use and benefit from immediately.

As a business coach, in other words, Philippe therefore had a very clear beneficiary, a very obvious problem to solve, and a cause to fight for. This got him to think about ways to make an Impact on those entrepreneurs in the short, medium and long-term. And, eventually, the idea came up that turning coaching methods into scalable digital instruments would not only make sense, it would also help alleviate pain for thousands.

From strategy-building to Impactful strategy-building.

In essence, although Philippe has spent the past ten years helping others build business strategies, adding a dose of Impact Thinking into the equation has helped realize that his own business strategy and value proposition could both become a million times more Impactful.

In fact, whilst people say that Impact Thinking is not for them, the interesting thing here is that this paradigm shift has impacted his business in two distinct ways.

First, adding the word ‘Impactful’ into his vocabulary has given a new dimension to his business. Giving a broader sense of purpose to his activity has given him a real cause to fight for, which in turn has given him a way to transform his business model dramatically, from personal coaching to digital knowledge transmission.

Second, Impactful Thinking has helped to change the narrative which surrounds the business. The point is no more to approach prospects to turn them into (expensive) paying clients. It is now to focus on achieving a wanted Impact through a tailor-made solution designed to match the exact needs of the identified beneficiaries.

Ultimately, the idea of building a product that is more tangible and much cheaper to the client is still there. Only, this point has turned from being a weak vision into being a very compelling value proposition as well as an actionable solution.

2. From Career Director to strategic team builder.

I mentioned previously that I would also give you an example related to strategy implementation, so let me continue with the case of Marie.

Marie is a Career Director and she has spent the past fifteen years helping MBA student with their professional orientation, in line with the career strategies of the international institutions she worked for. Yet, when the moment came to write her own story and personal plan for the next years, she got stuck with something she couldn’t explain. The big idea was there, somewhere, but putting her finger on it was the difficult bit.

Exploring Marie’s value proposition.

The discussion began as with Philippe, with simple questions as to what Marie had in mind.

As a Career Director with experience in several high-level institutions, she immediately embarked into an analysis of how her industry functioned. Some things worked but others didn’t. So she came up with some rather specific thoughts as to what she wanted to do.

Marie’s approach to doing things is mostly purpose-oriented, so when assessing her current occupation she identified a particular distortion between her role and her goals. Think about it, how can you truly support students in finding their way when the main expectation of your management is numbers?

Soon, Marie therefore identified her basic vision, which by then was a matter of giving a meaning to her work, and to focus on things that would make sense to her.

Except that this wasn’t a proper vision. Something was missing (a value proposition, really) so we went further to identify Marie’s real driver.

Bringing some Impact Thinking into Marie’s equation.

When Marie researched what really moved her, Marie realized that the issue she had focused on so far was, again, a problem for her but not a problem that the students actually faced. This was creating discomfort for her, but there was no real beneficiary, no real problem and no real cause to fight for there.

With a dose of Impact Thinking, however, the perspective changed.

Marie realized that her direct clients were not the students but the strategy-makers who exercised the wrong kind of pressure on the implementing team. And when she did that, she realized that her real Impact would relate to implementing strategies more efficiently, and to empower teams.

The students would benefit from the change, of course, but they were not her real driver so she dropped the education dimension of her vision to focus on what she really enjoyed: strategy implementation and team-building.

Of course, education is a big thing and I am not saying that Marie realized that she didn’t like it. No. Her point was rather than what she enjoyed was to get in the middle of strategy-building, and to make it happen by taking responsibility for building the team in charge of implementing the next moves.

Whether that happened in an educational context was a different element in the equation. In fact, thinking about her Impact made her realize that she might well operate in a completely different environment a few years from now, depending on how interesting her next challenges would be.

Analyzing the shift.

As with Philippe, this value proposition shift means that the initial ‘why’ identified by Marie was not her real driver. Making sense of her work was fundamental to her, but the real driver was clearly related to implementing strategies and building the teams which would be needed for that purpose.

As a result, her real vision became focused on making an Impact, while her initial ‘why’ became her mode for action.

When Marie talks to her interlocutors and stakeholders, she now has a compelling message to convey, and guiding principles (or values) to explain how she plans on making that happen. In retrospect, she says that the exercise was “a revelation” to her. Impactful, uh?

better value proposition seek your real driver antoine martin impact thinking

3. From culture change management to financial inclusion impact.

The third case study here is that of another consultant I happened to work with as part of the CUHK Law Impact Strategy project. I needed a specialist in change management to help with conveying a culture change to the Faculty Staff, so I asked for Nick’s help.

As the former COO of a Big Four consulting firm, Nick had massive experience in the field of culture change and was the most qualified person I could think of for that mission.

Yet, as with Philippe and Marie, what Nick came aboard with was a strong ‘what’ (culture change strategy-building with user-centered pricing principles), but not Impact Thinking. But that gave us an opportunity to have a discussion about his own Impact, and again the discussion proved super instructive.

Struggling with a non-Impactful value proposition.

As with the other discussions, I started the session with questions as to what was the biggest problem in Nick’s industry (financial services and Fintech, by the way).

As a former Big Four consultant, Nick came up with a variety of issues, mostly related to the consulting world. Pricing was usually excessive, for starters. And the value created for the client was overall insufficient compared to the price paid.

After years in the field, his answers made sense, of course. But as with Philippe and Marie, some part of the discussion wasn’t there (yet) and that we still needed to put our finger on the right problem.

Nick was talking about consulting issues which he could see, from the inside. Consultants are too expensive, the value for the clients isn’t significant enough… But as for Philippe and Marie, those problems were not the clients’ problems.

These were his own problems and they were sending him the wrong direction because they couldn’t create a real cause worth fighting for.

Again, if your vision is that the consulting world doesn’t work well, then the only value proposition you can provide is probably going to turn around the quality of the service and the pricing. And what that means is simple: the only way you can fight is to provide more for less. What you do when you do that, however, is to throw yourself into the competition instead of becoming a unique YOU.

From high-value consulting services to a financial inclusion value proposition.

So we introduced a dose of Impact Thinking into the discussion. And, again, the paradigm shift happened loud and clear.

Nick and I had spent some time talking prior to this discussion, so I knew that he had a sensitivity for a very singular and tremendously important topic: financial inclusion. After years in the advisory sector, Nick could talk passionately about Fintech developments and about how financial technology would sooner or later (sooner, hopefully) help bring financial services to the masses. Particularly in Hong Kong where, despite the city’s financial reputation, many people remain totally underbanked.

So? The value was clearly not in pricing and consulting ethics!

Nick was a consultant but consulting was his ‘what’ rather than his ‘why’, and focusing on improving the method wasn’t a vision at all.

In reality, his Impact is not about revolutionizing consulting services in terms of quality and pricing. No. His Impact is tied to a single message – we need more financial inclusion and we need to push for change to make it happen, and the best way to do that is to help Fintech companies with their development plans.

Case study analysis.

As for Philippe and Marie, the change in narrative is obvious and means that Nick’s initial ‘why’ was not his absolute driver. In effect, the initial driver became his ‘what’ or mode of action, and it gave him some values and guiding principles to turn his wanted Impact and vision into value creation for his future clients.

Interestingly, when I told Nick about my analysis of our session, his feedback was that I was perfectly right. After spending weeks questioning his positioning, the Impact Thinking method has helped him put his finger on a disconnect and helped him identify his real value generation potential.

A couple of days after our meeting, in fact, Nick met with some prospects and began the discussion with some thoughts on financial inclusion. As it turns out, those guys had similar objectives in mind, and that gave a super strong basis to start building a long-lasting relation.

supercharge your value proposition with impact thinking antoine martin 2When I asked Nick how he would summarize the contribution of our Impact Thinking session to his business projects, his conclusion came loud and clear: adding a dose of Impact to your vocabulary is the best way to articulate what you are about, to create a potential for connecting with like-minded people, and to create a common language you can then build upon as the relationship develops. If that’s not Impactful…

 

 

 

Supercharging your value proposition: concluding thoughts.

These case studies are interesting because they show how Impact Thinking methods can help entrepreneurs develop a new approach to things. Putting our fingers on our real drivers do not just help us figure out what we really are about. It also helps us figure out that, oftentimes, our initial ‘why’ in fact constitute our best guiding principles to make an Impact.

The beauty of it is that the same method works for everyone. It works if you are an entrepreneur, but it also works if you want to think about your next career moves, or if you want to create your own leadership path. It works if you are trying to build products as well, or a publication strategy, not to mention a business strategy as a whole.

In fact, what worked with Philippe, Marie and Nick have helped more people build interesting projects, and if you look around you, you might realize that mission-driven undertakings are everywhere.

Tesla is not just a car-manufacturing business, it is a business built on the idea that humanity needs an alternative to fossil fuels. Apple did not produce the iPhone because we needed a phone, it built it to bring technology in every home. Jack Ma didn’t build Alibaba as a simple online shop but with the “aim to build the future infrastructure of commerce”. Oh, and Google’s vision is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”.

The bottom line is, Impact is at the heart of turning what you do into something bigger than you, and Impact Thinking is like a magic sauce which can help you clarify what really matters.

When you do that the cost argument isn’t relevant anymore. What matters is your internal driver, and figuring it out means a lot in terms of business positioning. No more consulting competition concerns, just an intimate conviction that entrepreneurs will need something not available so far, that Fintechs have a power to change the world, or that what really matters to you is to build teams that rock.

When your real impact goal appears, the rest becomes a set of guiding principles which can help you increase both your value proposition and, ultimately, Impact delivery.

Not too bad, don’t you think?

 

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Unlocking Creativity? They remembered ‘Impact’!

I didn’t plan this, it just happened. It started as a business talk where I explored mindsets and processes for unclocking creativity. Except that the discussion shifted and, in the end, all the attendance remembered was ‘Impact’. And it happened again, and again. In fact, the more I talk about the idea of Impact Thinking, and the more people pick it up.

In this article, I am telling you the story of that surprising talk. But be careful. It might give you some food for thought!


The story you are about to read started with a talk I gave in Hong Kong in early 2019. The event took place in a co-working space which invited me to talk about strategies for supporting creativity and innovation (i.e. unlocking creativity) to a few entrepreneurs.

I went there with my friend Philippe from Business Talents Asia, who coaches entrepreneurs and executives for a living. We both prepared our share of the discussion and got into the room, where we started talking to a small group of focused participants.

The talk went great. The attendance was receptive and participated very enthusiastically, which made the moment very constructive and enjoyable. Overall, everything worked as expected.

Well, nearly everything.

At the end of the session, we asked everyone in the room to write down a couple of keywords they would remember. We wanted to know if our talk would help them with unlocking creativity, whether personally or in relation to their business.

We expected them to tell us about business mindsets and process-building because, well, the talk had been structured around these topics. But they didn’t. Their responses were unanimous: Impact, Impact, and Impact.

And the best part is, it happened again, and again.

In this article, I am writing about how the word ‘Impact’ seems to be perceived and about why it makes a difference when approached strategically. With a little bit of luck, it will give you some ideas too!

Unlocking creativity and innovation requires a Mindset and a Process.

The starting point of a talk is always a question provided by the host. In our case, the purpose was to give the audience some food for thought as to ‘how to unlock infinite creativity and innovation’. I know, quite a program…

Considering our respective (and converging) expertise, Philippe and I decided to focus on one main idea, i.e. that unlocking creativity and innovation requires a mindset and a process.

Business Mindset.

For the first half of the talk, Philippe discussed the idea that, in the same way that running a business implies developing a business mindset, unlocking creativity was about building a way to think differently.

Thinking differently is important when it comes to creativity, and the best example of that is probably Apple. At some point ‘Think Different’ used to be the brand’s tagline and we all know what that mindset helped creating in terms of technological innovation over the past two decades. From computers to music players and phones, chances are that Apple was THE driver of technology as we know it.

Except that, over the past years, Apple has been focused on building flagship stores that people want to visit more than on developing innovative tech that people want to buy.

Yes, of course, new phones come up regularly… But how innovative are they compared to others?

As of today, it looks like Apple somehow depends on real estate to keep attracting clients. Said differently, the mindset is gone, and the idea of thinking differently has led the tech giant to become a great shopping mall architect.

Market strategy-thinking.

A solution to unlocking creativity is to think in terms of positioning and competition removal. There are various ideas to explore here.

Start with niche-ing yourself, for instance. Having a niche is the best way for a business to attract a focused and demanding clientele willing to pay for something unique. So by thinking in terms of differentiation and uniqueness you potentially have a creative boulevard ahead of you.

Another idea is to try and create better value for the client. Not by reducing the price or by giving more, no. But by thinking in terms of what the competition does in excess and in terms of what the competition misses. This is what Kim and Mauborgne – the authors of Blue Ocean Strategy, in case you wondered – call the Value Curve, and it looks like something similar to that:

blue ocean strategy

The X axis represents the various features offered by the competition, while the Y axis illustrates quantities. Here, as you can see, the competition offers a lot of elements 1-4 but very little of elements 5-6. And, because the value propositions are strictly similar, the prices are low.

The green curve, by contrast, got rid of the common 1-4 elements and focuses on what the competitors don’t provide. With that comes uniqueness, obviously. And a higher price.

In sum, to unleash unlimited creativity and innovation, the key is to figure out what to increase, what to decrease, what to delete and what to create. When you do that, chances are that you’ll come up with ideas that others never had, and that you will have access to markets only available to the most creative minds.

Process integration.

Turning creativity into a mindset has two major interests. One, it creates opportunities you never thought existed. Two, a business focused around a creative mindset has unrivaled tools to create a common language for a team, which in turn can unleash more and more innovation.

But in reality, having a mindset is not enough. Having a mindset – whether it is a business mindset or a creative mindset – is just a basis. You need more!

What you really need to unleash innovation is a process designed to push every team member to think in terms of change and improvement whatever they do.

One element here is to have a creative agenda, a funny and misleading term (I illustrated it with a colorful pinky girly diary during the presentation) which is nothing but a synonym for creative strategy. Simply put: what do you want to achieve? By when? how do you plan on getting there?

Another element is therefore to build a system for permanent testing and measuring. Or, said differently, a process.

You can try and innovate all you want, but if you don’t follow a formal process which forces you to question your creativity at all times, from creation to testing and measuring, then how can you expect results?

The answer to that is simple. You can’t.

The idea I decided to test: integrating Impact Thinking into the equation.

And then came a third idea that I decided to include in the talk, to test and measure the reactivity of the audience. That idea is what I call Impact Thinking.

Integrating Impact Thinking into the “unlocking creativity” equation was a deliberate test for me, but I needed to find out whether people could be reactive to a talk based strongly on an Impact concept they didn’t know anything about. Eventually, the only way to get a clear idea was to take a risk, so I went all in.

Introducing Impact Thinking.

Of course, the first step for me was to introduce the concept of Impact Thinking to the audience. The idea will sound obvious, but basically, it is a matter of saying that you should try and think in terms of what you can change and improve for a specific audience.

The point is interesting because it forces you to think in terms of change. First, identifying the status quo, the reasons behind it and the ways to possibly alter it. Second, thinking in terms of problem, in terms of beneficiary and in terms of cause. Third, thinking in terms of Wanted Impact.

And that changes the equation in many regards.

From Value Curve to Impact Thinking.

I mentioned earlier that Blue-Ocean ways of thinking about value creation are a great way to build products that nobody else has, if you remember.

But what I realized was that talking in terms of Impact Thinking was a brutal way to make your value curve dramatically different.

While entrepreneurs may have difficulties to think in terms of value curve – because it requires to think really differently, with concepts you rarely know – adding a notion of impact in the discussion often makes your value curve jump.

Take the above curve for instance, and imagine that it describes a tech product of some sort, with many competitors and a usually low market price. All the competitors are on the same line, pretty much, and we are looking for a way to get our own value curve at a very different level… without really knowing where to start.

Now, let’s introduce some Impact Thinking into the graph by adding a ‘Wanted Impact’ into the curve.

To illustrate, imagine that you are Steve Jobs and that you are looking for a way to get rid of competition on the Walkman market. The goal is to unlock creativity, but it is also to create a revolutionary product that people will need.

After some heavy brainstorming, you come to the conclusion that your wanted Impact is to revolutionize music equipment by turning music devices into unlimited music databases (as compared to the former equipment which could store a couple of hours of music at most).

As soon as this Impact is introduced into the value curve, the product is immediately out of reach for competitors. The Walkman could store an hour of music? The iPhone promised to store millions. The maths are easy to do!

The new product is immediately disruptive. Its originality increases and so does its traction capacity – which actually rockets. In the end, competition diminishes drastically, but the acceptable price is massive compared to the competition. Why? Because people are now happy to pay more for something which exponentially increases their perceived value (and doesn’t exist anywhere else).

Said differently? Adding a dose of Impact Thinking is the best way to work on unlocking creativity. It will rock your world.

Unlocking Creativity = Building a Christmas Tree.

Now, of course, the idea of Impact Thinking does not stop there, and part of the talk brought us back to the importance of building strategies. And I mean, Impactful Strategies.

Again, thinking in terms of Impact creates a massive leap forward because it creates an opportunity to start from the end.

When one knows the Impact they want to achieve ultimately, or the results they want to reach, they can start planning ahead. Planning then gives a variety of tools, which can all be calibrated depending on the wanted Impact.

For instance? Well… What message are you going to communicate? How is that message helping you to get to your wanted Impact? How does it inspire people and push them to contribute? Next? What resources do you need to find? What efforts do you need to make? What actions do you need to plan?

In short, in the same way that a tree only becomes a Christmas Tree after you have put your heart into it, Impact thinking is a magic way to help you think ahead and plan whatever you plan on doing. I call that my ‘Build a Christmas Tree’ approach to making an Impact.

Impact - Build a christmas tree 2

So, in the end, they remembered Impact, Impact, and Impact again.

After an hour and a half of talking about unlocking creativity and innovation with an Impact flavor, Philippe and I ended the talk and invited the participants to enter into a discussion with each other.

But before doing that we asked the audience to fill in a simple feedback form. This form contained several elements, the main of which were a list of keywords and a short impact assessment.

For the keywords, some of our guests remembered ‘mindset’ whilst others remembered ‘process’. But all of them remembered Impact. Then we asked whether the talk was likely (or not!) to change their approach to doing business.

The feedback was unanimous: Impact Thinking would make a difference into the way our guests approached creativity.

This was rather a surprise. The talk was a test and, again, my goal was to verify the hypothesis I had formulated that people might be interested in the concept of Impact Thinking. Well, I was wrong. The participants didn’t feel interested. They felt caught and hooked by it.

After the session, they kept talking about it. One participant – expert in career coaching – told me how my approach to Impact matched her personal approach to life. Another participant who had spent twenty years in the advertising industry explained that, regrettably, his job had been to focus on meaningless communication when it should have focused on Impact, Impact, and Impact.

It happened again, and again.

In short, we went there to talk about creativity and innovation as a mindset, and all they remembered was Impact. This story is interesting because it suggests that there is, after all, another way of doing business and of building Impactful Strategies. But it is also interesting because this story keeps happening to me.

Impactful Strategies for the education industry.

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to talk at another event. In Hong Kong again, but this time on business strategies for the education industry.

The idea was interesting but rather vague, so I gave a call to the organizer and asked what the expectations were. I gave her the example of the creativity and innovation talk, and we talked about our options. After twenty minutes she came up with a new proposition: “why don’t we change the event topic to… Building Impactful Strategies for the Education Industry? This is what we had in mind all the way down, but we just couldn’t formulate it!”

Researchers too.

Whilst I use talks and discussions with entrepreneurs to test my Impact Thinking concepts, let’s not forget that I work in a Law Faculty, where I head the Impact strategy dynamic. And the interesting is, the same happened there as well.

With the help of Design Thinking experts, I organized an Impact Thinking workshop with a colleague of mine. Again, the hypothesis I had made was that we would manage to make him realize the potential of using Impact Thinking when planning research projects traditionally affected by enormous internal and external constraints which, let’s be frank, tend to spoil the fun.

After two hours of workshop masterfully conducted by Youssef (our facilitator), the feedback arrived, abrupt and enthusiastic: Impact Thinking is a memorable tool, and it made me realize how easily I could turn research into an Impactful product relevant to stakeholders I had never thought about before.

Or, said differently, Impact Thinking means partners, cash, support, and an opportunity to change the world. Even for researchers normally not interested in doing business.

How Impactful are you?

I won’t go into more details and examples here, suffice it to say that my Impact Thinking concepts now echo to businesses and institutions in various places.

The question, really, becomes to find out where you stand on the Impact side of things.

Have you considered whether a dose of Impact Thinking could change someone’s life? Yours, maybe? What if Impact Thinking created an opportunity to reconsider the way a product, service or organization works? What if Impact Thinking gave you an opportunity to create more cohesion in a team by creating a common language between people?

Think about it and let me know!

 

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You need an Impactful Message (for f*ck sake!)

Having an Impactful Message is a key asset when it comes to doing whatever you do. Think about it. Those who have worked on crafting a message always have something smart to say about what they do, why they do it and why they are the best at doing it. Those who haven’t, in contrast, tend to have difficulties explaining what they do, why they are relevant and why they should be trusted. That’s quite a difference, don’t you think?

Having an Impactful Message is a key asset when it comes to doing whatever you do. Think about it. Those who have worked on crafting a message always have something smart to say about what they do, why they do it and why they are the best at doing it. Those who haven’t, in contrast, tend to have difficulties explaining what they do, why they are relevant and why they should be trusted. That’s quite a difference, don’t you think? So, do you have an Impactful Message? Do you have a message at all? If your answer to either of these two questions is no, then you should keep reading…


You need an Impactful Message (for f*ck sake!)

Impact Series – Ep.5

Today, my Impact Thinking writing gives me an opportunity to talk about the importance of having an Impactful Message. Not just a message, an Impactful one.

The message question is very common in my line of business. Whatever I write, wherever I speak somewhere, and wherever I help people building a strategy, I realize that getting the message up and running is the key challenge.

Sometimes the message is the wrong one, because it conveys the wrong bits. Sometimes the message is only partially built, or even non-existent. Most of the time, the message hasn’t been formalized or tested.

And, in most cases, the lack of a clear message means that the people who work on the project are unable to share a common language. But how can a team go anywhere if the language and the direction aren’t the same?

At the end of the day, no Impactful Message means no clear pitch, no efficient marketing, no sales process. Oh, and no ability to get people on board either. And I’m not even talking the ability to make an Impact…

Building an Impactful Message is a complicated question.

Now, the Impactful Message question is not an easy one. Often, people just want to focus on their work. They want to make business or conduct their research in a quick and profitable way. They want to move on a little further every day. And spending time on building a message doesn’t seem like a priority.

But that’s a huge mistake because whether we like it or not, having a message to convey to our audience is an absolute priority. It’s not a matter of business line, everyone should have a message. Period!

First, working on formulating your message is the best way to clearly define who you are, what you do, what you have to offer, and what you want from people. In short, your message is the best way to explain who you are.

Second, a clear message that genuinely conveys your purpose is a strong asset when it comes to getting people on board with you. Simply put, why would anyone team up with you if you don’t have a compelling story they can relate to?

Third, your message is a super strong asset as far as your Impact is concerned. In fact, your message is a cornerstone of what I call your Impact Capital, and the beauty is, it works for everything and everyone. Whether you are trying to do business, to conduct life-changing research or to build a charity, the idea is the same: you need a message to rally others to your cause.

So, tell me. Why on Earth would you miss such an opportunity to rise and shine?

Building a compelling and Impactful Message.

The question which comes next is fairly logical: how do you build a compelling and Impactful Message?

First, your message needs to convey a sense of purpose. Second, your message must inspire and rally people to your cause. But, to do that, your message must also demonstrate that there is a cause worth fighting for. Last but not least, to be truly compelling and Impactful, your message must also be thoroughly prepared.

Tip 1: An Impactful Message must convey a sense of purpose.

My first tip is very simple: your message is at the heart of everything you do, therefore it must convey a sense of purpose.

Said differently, your message should convey everything people need to know, about you, and about why they should team up with you.

There are two elements you need to convey, as a matter of fact. One is your “what“. The other is your “for what Impact“.

Take it that way. The people you talk to need to know what you do, but a generic term isn’t enough. The what must be elaborated, and it must point to something interesting to your interlocutor(s).

For instance? Telling people you are a researcher doesn’t bring much, but saying that you analyze changing regional Fintech context to help to build financial innovation is much more compelling. Trust me on that one, actually…

Similarly, telling someone that you are a general manager at work will drive less traction than saying that you support colleagues to help them achieve great stuff, whatever the field.

You see my point. In these two examples, the effect is immediate. Shifting from a job description to a personal story sends a compelling message because it shifts the attention from what you do to what Impact you can have. In one case, your approach is overly practical. In the other, you explain what difference you make in a clear and thoughtful way, and people will remember it.

Tip 2: Inspire and get people on board.

What that means is simple. Whatever you do, your primary job is to explain what you do in a way they can relate to, and to get there just focusing on the what isn’t enough. To be compelling and Impactful, your message must also explain how you make a difference.

To some extent, focusing a message on your Impact potential provides an opportunity to turn a relationship upside down.

When the focus is a pure ‘what’, things can get difficult but the discussion is usually about selling something. By contrast, discussing Impact gives everyone an occasion to relate and get on board. Focusing your message on the Impact you make is an opportunity to define your uniqueness (also known as your Unique Selling Proposition) and to present yourself as a significant game-changer in your own niche. And that’s inspiring.

Whatever the field.

This suggestion is applicable to every field you can think about.

I worked as a researcher for three years and always joked about the fact that my job was one of the rare ones which implied no selling whatsoever. But that was absolutely wrong because researchers depend on grants and funding of all sorts to conduct whatever research they have to conduct. And what’s the best way to obtain funding? Well, conveying the message that the money will serve a cause, solve a problem and have a purpose helps a lot.

The same applies to business. Are you selling some company registration services (or anything else, really)? Well, chances are that your clients will look for an Impactful message when they make a choice between you and the massive competition out there! Ask my friend Laurent, who turned an un-sexy accounting activity into a thriving business using the right innovation-fueled message and see for yourself…

The same goes for investors, who need to know what you are made of and why they should trust you with their cash. And the idea also works for bankers, who need to know where you are going and why that business of yours has a strong potential worth aligning petty cash for.

Your clients, investors, and bankers are built exactly like the rest of your audience. They like stories, and they like to show off with smart information nobody has. So, when you elaborate a compelling and Impactful Message, you give them a story to tell. A story of which you are the hero, of course.

Getting your team together.

The power of your message is also significant to build a team or get people together around a common project. Or story.

Whether we agree or not, people need to feel involved. They need to feel that they are part of something they believe in. And they want to have a chance to help to build whatever they work on. Coaching guru Dale Carnegie called this ‘the feeling of importance’.

So? Well, to involve people, try and build a compelling and Impactful Message and they will carry it for you. This is probably one of the smartest ways to get them on board. Just saying…

Tip 3: A message which solves a problem for someone.

To make your message compelling, you should also make sure to include some problem-solving into it.

I am not getting into the details extensively here, because I’ve written another Impact Thinking article on that already. But, long things short, the big idea here is that to make an Impact you need a problem to solve, a beneficiary to fight for, and a cause to defend.

In other words, make sure that your message communicates on the existence of a problem to solve, and that your audience understands that there is a cause worth fighting for.

Tip 4: Have a tone, for f*ck sake…

Last but not least, an Impactful Message is a message with a tone.

Make people laugh or shiver (so they can relate and understand your point), or inspire them. Provoke them. Make them think to make them act on whatever you have to say.

As Brogan and Smith wrote it in The Impact Equation, a message without warmth will be perceived as cold, and a message without emotions will make you look like someone who doesn’t believe in what they say.

When I talk about message – or perhaps should I say when I help people formulate and write their message – I often take the freedom to add a ‘for f*ck sake‘ at the end of whatever they come up with.

And guess what? Their reaction is always the same. At first, they seem skeptical with their own message, because it sounds classic, toneless, tasteless. But then the FFS appears and the magic appears. They laugh, and they usually raise their arms saying “oh my God! This is it! The tone is what was missing!”.

Please don’t take my word for granted though. Write your message, read it, then add a ‘for f*ck sake’ after it an see the difference.

Case studies: We all have a message to showcase. Really!

Now, how about some case studies? I am going to give you four examples.

Ph.D. students.

As part of training sessions, I talked ‘message’ with groups of Ph.D students. All of them had very sharp expertise on topics I didn’t understand, which normally ought to be fine – if their message is built to help me bridge the gap, that is.

Except that in most cases there is no such thing as a tailored message, and that’s a big problem.

Not for me. For them.

Why? Well, me being unable to understand them meant that their message got lost in the way. These guys can work for three to four years on a topic, but without an adequately defined message, no-one can understand what they have to say. Worse, people will run away during cocktails and events because talking to someone you don’t understand is a hell of a punition.

So I worked on helping them to define their Impactful Message. I explored, pushed them (I happen to know a trick or two) until something complex became clear, easy to understand, and fun to talk about. After the training, in fact, their feedback was that building a message around their thesis wasn’t that hard, and that it gave them a new perspective on their work.

Entrepreneurs too.

Similar examples can be found with entrepreneurs, obviously. In that case, the message is usually about pitching a product or a service, but it can also be about making the promotion of a company to investors. Every time, however, the existence of a story to tell is key.

Interestingly, the message is also very important in situations where people simply don’t know they need one!

For instance? Someone wants a website for their business. Right, but what do you put on a website if you don’t have a message to tell people about? You need a story, that’s for sure, but you need a what, a problem to solve, a compelling Impact case to communicate in there. No message, no website!

Non-profits.

The above is perhaps even more significant for non-profits. At the end of the day, non-profit organizations are interesting because while they don’t do business as we mean it, they are entities with an incredible amount of things to sell.

They save the world from something and need money to do it. And having a message which denotes strength and Impact is the best way to get people on board. On top of building a website, of course.

Career development too.

The fourth and last example, for now, relates to career development. I recently had a chat with my friend Marie, who happens to be Head of Careers in a big institution.

Marie had a massive CV with lots of experience, internationally and all that. But something was missing: a message!

We worked on her message over a couple of hours and came up with something clear. And eventually, I added my ‘for f*ck sake’ trick to her message whilst she went to get us some coffee. I said it was there as a joke, of course, but as I expected she liked it so much that on paper her message now has a hell of a tone. Impactful!

Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

In all cases, an Impactful Message needs to be carefully prepared. This sounds silly, but trust me it is not.

I regularly talk to people who refuse to prepare their talks. Their excuse is either that they know their topic (already), or that they want to be natural and to be seen as such. I’ve seen the President of an association do that out of (misplaced) pride and pretention, and I don’t need to tell you how stupid he looked to the whole audience. He didn’t realize it, but people in the room laughed, asking why nobody would cut the microphone and stop his misery.

Like it or not, but in truth, if your message doesn’t get through you are the one to blame. A message which has not been repeated and repeated again just can’t feel natural.

When a message isn’t prepared and repeated, the words end up being clumsy and the ideas just don’t flow. Hesitations kick in, repetitions and contradictions too, and you always end-up being labeled as the guy (or girl) with poor communication skills.

So, whether you are about to make a pitch or an actual talk, the tip is always the same: prepare and repeat your message until it is crystal clear.

Next steps.

In sum, there are more examples of missing messages than you’d want to read right now, but if you are still reading you are now well aware of the stakes.

So here is the thing. Your message is the basis of your branding, whatever your line of business. If you don’t spend the adequate time on crafting it, you simply won’t have anything relevant to say and you won’t stand a chance when it comes to getting people on board.

This applies to business branding, quite obviously. You need to craft a message for your product, for your service, and for your brand, so that people have a great reason to trust you.

But this also applies to your personal branding. Whether you want to promote yourself as a balloon designer, as a Ted Talk speaker or as a philanthropist who supports arts and design, your message is a strong storytelling tool.

Ultimately, an Impactful Message is the perfect excuse to talk about what you do without overselling it. An Impactful Message is the best way to get people on board. An Impactful Message is a cornerstone or your Impact efforts. It’s as simple as that.

And you, where do you stand? Do you have a message at all?

 

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Impact strategy: Build a Christmas Tree!

In this episode of my Impact Thinking series, I explore the idea of taking a holistic approach to Impact-building. You won’t have an Impact simply by deciding it, let’s be rational. What you can do, however, is to think about what will help you get there. So here is the thing: you need to build a Christmas Tree. Sounds interesting? Keep reading.

In this episode of my Impact Thinking series, I explore the idea of taking a holistic approach to Impact-building. You won’t have an Impact simply by deciding it, let’s be rational. What you can do, however, is to think about what will help you get there. So here is the thing: you need to build a Christmas Tree. Sounds interesting? Keep reading.


 

Impact strategy: Build a Christmas Tree!

Impact Series – Episode 4

I spend a lot of time talking about strategy-building in my line of work.

Luckily for me, these discussions are extremely varied and can take place with very different types of profiles. Researchers, entrepreneurs, executives, directors, or Chief something Officers, the panel is large but in every case, my interlocutor is someone in charge and capable of deciding. For themselves, at least.

To me, the topic is very exciting. Not only because it helps float someone’s boat, but also because thinking ahead is fun and exciting. Yet, to most of my interlocutors, strategy brainstorming can be rather abstract, intangible and difficult to apprehend. At first anyway.

So, I’ve thought about ways to make the whole thing easy-going and fun, and I have developed a few concepts to make big ideas easy to remember and use. The first concept was about defining ‘Impact’ as a matter of Smashes, Bangs, and Wows. Another concept rather focused on the importance of finding a Cause. And a third concept was that of the 4Cs, or how to make the most of your Impact Capital.

In this article, I explore a fourth idea which I use regularly to illustrate the importance of strategic Impact Thinking: my ‘Build a Christmas Tree’ concept.

A little bit of background.

To put things very simply, ‘Build a Christmas Tree’ illustrates the idea that making an Impact is a process.

The point is not to merely to get your big picture, in other words. It is to shape your big picture, in a way that encompasses the main pillars of your work. Your wanted Impact, for starters. Your skills, to continue. Your message. And your various strategic actions.

The Christmas Tree story.

Now, I can hear you, what does this have to do with building a Christmas tree? Well, the answer is a little story that I usually tell when I explain the idea of Impact Thinking. This story, unsurprisingly, is that of a Christmas Tree. But let me explain.

We all know what having a Christmas tree is about. Joy, happiness, festivity and all that. But in reality a Christmas tree only becomes a Christmas tree after you have put your heart into it, and after you have worked toward making it, well… a Christmas tree.

At the beginning, your Christmas tree is nothing more than a basic tree. A cut one, in fact, which will soon die if no one takes care of it.

But then you start caring. You inspect it, you decide to write a story around it, with your family and friends. And you come up with an expected outcome, i.e. that this tree is going to be the cornerstone of your family’s Christmas spirit.

You then bring the tree home. You push your furniture around and give it a nice place where it will be seen and loved. You get the decorations from the attic, you call the kids – who get excited by your call for help and by the promise of a merry Christmas period. And then you start unwrapping.

Joy builds up, mommy pulls some warm Christmas cookies from the oven and even brings some milk (because of dunking, of course). The tree gets some love and care. And then, eventually, the little ones will ask some help to get the Christmas star to the top. Ultimately, the magic operates, and what used to be a random tree turns into the Christmas tree of your dreams.

Impact - Build a christmas tree

 

Said differently?

The Christmas tree story is my favorite way to describe what Impact Thinking is about because it shows that making an Impact is about creating a process.

In retrospect, the tree became a Christmas one because you took decisions and organized the common effort towards obtaining a result.

You organized the resources available to you. You got people on board with a strong message (it’s Christmas guys!). And you coordinated efforts (or helped the kids to act on their own). At the end of the day, you turned the whole thing into something bigger… and Impactful.

Ultimately, though, the tree-building afternoon wasn’t just about having fun. First, the result positively impacted your family, which was the purpose quite obviously. Second, it built on people’s skills. Third, it transmitted a message of peace and cohesion. Fourth, it involved planning and acting purposely. This is precisely what Impactful strategies are about.

Building your Christmas tree.

So how can you build your Christmas Tree, then? Well, as I just emphasized, several elements are important and should be considered in turns.

As I explained in one of my other Impact Thinking articles, the first step when building your Christmas tree is your ability to identify a problem to solve, a beneficiary to help, and ultimately an inspiring cause to for fight. But beyond finding a cause, you also need to think in terms of wanted Impact, in terms of skills, in terms of message, and in terms of actionable strategy-building. Rings a bell?

The Christmas Star: the ultimate piece of an Impactful journey.

Once you have identified a cause worth fighting for, the next step is to clarify what Impact you ultimately want to achieve, in the medium or in the long term.

It might sound silly, but the best way to make an Impact at some point is to decide now what you will change sooner or later.

In our little example, the ultimate goal is to bring the Christmas spirit into the house, so the wanted Impact is illustrated by the star on top of the tree. Difficult to set up, but hard to move away as well, the star is that permanent objective you keep in mind as work progresses.

When building your Christmas Tree, therefore, keep your final goal in mind. Follow the Northern Star, let it be your guide, and keep going until you get there.

Next: your skills.

Once the major goal is set, you need to think in terms of doing.

Simply put, what can you do to make things change and happen? Or perhaps should I say, what are you good at doing? Are you the only one capable of doing it? Why are you better than others? What is your expertise going to bring to the project? To what extent is your expertise going to be decisive in shaping the change you want to bring?

This is a lot of questions. I know. But these need to be asked, because your skills are always instrumental, whatever Impact you hope to achieve.

Maslow.

Is my little Christmas story a little naive? Let me get the heavy artillery out and let’s talk about Maslow instead.

The Maslow Pyramid is one of the (rare) things I’ve always remembered from my years studying economics and sociology. The idea is very simple: from a sociological perspective, everything happens when a specific pyramid of needs is put into place.

At its basis come the fundamental physiological needs (understand having access to primary food and water), followed by safety needs (understand, personal security expectations of all sorts) and by a feeling of appurtenance. Once all these steps are secured, things then work up until the top of the pyramid.

Impact - Build a christmas tree 3

The idea makes sense from a mindset perspective, and it works for everything you do. If you tried to build a pyramid (or whatever edifice, really), you would need to start from strong and reliable foundations which would need to last forever. Right?

Well, the same logic applies for whatever Impactful project you have in mind.

Your tree needs strong foundations. In our little Christmas story, all it takes a bit of ingenuity and DIY to make the tree stand durably. But without such basic skills, your Christmas spirit wouldn’t stand a chance. In your case, by extension, the point is to make sure that you have what it takes to make your Impactful project stand in the long-run. Think about that…

The trunk: your message!

The third element of your Impactful project is the trunk of your tree, and it is super important. Why? Because the trunk represents the message you will need to convey in order to materialize your Impact.

Remember that Impact Thinking is a way to turn a linear growth rate into a hockey stick growth rate. In the first case – as in most cases, in fact – the growth potential is linear because more results requires more investment, whether in terms of capital, time or manpower. Adding a dose of Impact Thinking to your equation, in contrast, exponentially increases your result potential. For more on this, read also my notes on developing your Impact Capital.

Said differently, thinking in terms of Impact is the best way to gather people around your cause. When you talk about the Impact you want to make (instead of merely trying to sell some stuff), you have a chance to inspire and to get people on board. That means more passion, more involvement, more cash, more time and more arms. And more Impact eventually.

To get there, however, any Impactful project of yours will need an Impactful Message. The point about making things change is not to just try, it is to make it happen. To do that, you need to preach and convince with a compelling story (and argument).

Hence, in the same way that a tree without a trunk is not a tree, an Impact project without a clear, articulated and inspiring message will never become an Impactful project. Period! So, do you have an Impactful Message?

The branches: your past and forthcoming actions.

The last element of my ‘Build a Christmas Tree’ concept is the branches.

There are two ways to look at the branches. figuratively, you might want to say that the branches of a tree are the extensions of its trunk, hence the branches could be described as a way to extend the message, one way or another.

Well. Yes. Of course. But no.

I have another way to look at this. We are not looking at a cut tree anymore, remember? We are trying to build a Christmas Tree. And what that means is very simple: the branches represent an opportunity to strategize.

Let’s get back into our living room for a second. What kind of Christmas Tree do we want? Do we want traditional tinsels or do we prefer some lights everywhere? Do we want little figurines and items of all sorts in that tree, or do we want it simple and empty? Said differently, how do we turn our cut tree into a Christmas Tree that everyone likes?

Whether your point is to decorate a tree or to change the world to serve a cause, the whole idea here is to build a strategy which will get you closer to making your message practical and your Impact visible.

So? Think in terms of tangible actions and actionable ideas. Do you have a goal? Good. But how do you make it happen? What is your next action? How is that action getting you closer to your wanted Impact?

Impact - Build a christmas tree 2

The bottom line: the Christmas Tree, or how to develop a holistic approach to Impact Thinking.

If your goal is to make things change – at whatever level – adding a dose of Impact Thinking into your equation is probably a good idea. Having said this, the idea is easier said than done, and unless you start acting this might just remain wishful thinking.

The question, therefore, is to figure out how to make things happen.

The issue is relevant and complex at the same time, hence thinking in terms of big picture makes sense. But shaping your big picture should be your goal, however, and to that extent developing a holistic approach to your Impact strategy is essential. Build a Christmas Tree!

 

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Meet the 4Cs: You have an Impact Capital

Our ability to make a difference is often conditioned by three types of capital, i.e. our money Capital, our time Capital, and our people Capital. But what if there was a fourth type of Capital available? Something related to your ability to make an Impact and which, who knows, might act as a multiplicator to increase your cash, time and people resources?

Our ability to make a difference is often conditioned by three types of capital, i.e. our money Capital, our time Capital, and our people Capital. But here is the thing. We all end up running out of money, there aren`t enough hours in a day, and managing people is an expensive and time-consuming thing which eventually ends up draining your energy.

But what if there was a fourth type of Capital available? Something related to your ability to make an Impact and which, who knows, might act as a multiplicator to increase your cash, time and people resources? In this article, I explore a very simple idea: The 4Cs. Because you also have an Impact Capital (and you probably don’t even know about it). Keep reading!


 

Meet the 4Cs: You also have an IMPACT Capital (and you don’t know about it).

Fact: making a difference is a challenge. Whether you are an entrepreneur, a salesperson, a high-level executive, a fundraiser, a researcher or a stand-alone doer, changing the world is a daily challenge. The struggle is constant, the reasons for acting (or failing) are varied, and the concerns differ depending on your skills, priorities, and budgets.

At the end of the day, though, we all have some assets in common. Whatever our strengths and weaknesses, we all possess a set of three indispensable Capital factors. One is our Financial Capital. Another is our Time Capital. The third is our Human Capital.

Albeit at different levels, these three types of resources are available to us. Yet money, time and human resources aren’t a guaranteed way to make a difference and we are not equal when it comes to getting results. Money isn’t eternal nor unlimited, time flies, and managing people will eventually drain the remaining cash and time you have. The question is, what other means do we have at our disposal to make a difference?

Well, here is the thing. What really makes the difference is a fourth asset. An asset that everyone has and can use. But an asset that most people ignore they have and never use. Except for the successful ones, of course.

I call this asset our Impact Capital, and I find it extremely powerful. Why? Because when you leverage your Impact Capital on top of the Financial, Time and Human Capital, your possibilities increase exponentially.

The idea at the heart of the 4Cs is easy to catch. Impact Thinking – or the habit of integrating Impact into the equation – is an absolute game changer. Like it or not, but thinking that 3+1 equals 4 is outdated. When Impact Thinking gets into the equation, 3+1 equals 9, 10, or even 45. The limit is your imagination, really.

The 3Cs are the engine.

The first three Cs are important for a simple reason: they represent both the fuel and the engine of whatever Impact or change you are trying to make. Used wisely, they enable you to run your organization. Optimized, they might even manage you to obtain better results than expected.

The first C: your Financial Capital.

The first asset in your Capital toolbox is financial. This won’t come to you as a surprise, but your cash is your most obvious form of Capital, and it is usually the one you leverage in priority.

Cash is important for reasons that we don’t need to explore in great depth here. It has an enabling power. It can buy you time and expertise. In a for-profit organization, cash is also a benchmark and a mirror when it comes to assessing your progress and results. It is also the reason why most of us wake up in the morning, by the way.

In a nutshell, cash is the fuel that keeps your organization up and running, and it is also a major bait when it comes to attracting partners. But there is more than cash.

The second C: your Time Capital.

Time is the second asset in your toolbox. Again, the point seems logical, I know. But in reality time is probably one of the most overused and under-optimized tools at your disposal.

In theory, your time is what enables your activity – outside of money talks – and the time you are ready to invest into a task or project is often decisive when it comes to getting stuff done.

In reality, however, most entrepreneurs and executives hardly optimize their time resource. Something needs to get done? They go for it. Is it essential? Doesn’t matter. Making a difference between what is urgent and important makes little sense to them, they just go for it.

The problem is, you only have a limited amount of time in a day, and the time you spend on something pointless is proof of bad management skills. Time is a resource and a major aspect of your personal capital. Hence, badly used time equals to poor resource allocation. And poor resource allocation means bad investment. It’s as simple as that.

The key take is, time is an asset, and you need to decide to use it carefuly to increase your chances of getting results. Oh, and you can obviously try to buy more time, but that will cost you a significant chunk of your cash capital, you see?

The third C: your Human Capital.

The third asset in your Capital toolbox is your Human Capital.

We all have a Human Capital, and we all use it in different ways. Some see their Human Capital in terms of personal negotiation skills, or in terms of networking skills. Others see their Human Capital as an ability to obtain the best from others, which includes their suppliers, their agents or, of course, their staff. Someone has to get things done eventually, right?

The difficulty is that our Human Capital is difficult to quantify and allocate. in fact, the Human Capital is usually a largely under-optimized asset. You’d be surprised to see how many people just go along with their routine without even wondering whether and how they could optimize the way they deal with people…

Why is that? Well, dealing with people now to get things done now is intuitive and faster than taking the time to think about how to do it differently a little later. Again, important and urgent are two different concepts.

The point is, your Human Capital is a powerful tool and it needs to be leveraged if you want to achieve results. In fact, investing in your Human Capital is probably one of the best investments you could do in terms of development. Except that you are probably not doing it. Or are you?

Asset 3+1: we all have an Impact Capital, and it acts as a multiplicator.

As I said before, the 3Cs are the fuel and engine of your organization, and your ability to optimize their allocation will allow you to obtain improved results at best. Not good enough? Well, this is where talking about Impact Thinking can make an exponential difference.

The fourth C: your Impact Capital.

The question deserves to be asked, what if there was an additional asset worth using to make an exponential difference? At the end of the day, the 3Cs aren’t unlimited and won’t produce infinite results, so having a way to create a hockey stick curve when assessing your results – and to turn your results into a visible impact by the same token – shouldn’t be ignored.

The fourth C is your Impact Capital, and it is interesting because it has the potential to radically change your usual equation.

Why? Because your Impact Capital is not just a resource you can use independently, in addition to the rest. No. Your Impact Capital is a multiplier.

Call it a catalyst, a leverage tool, a voice amplificator, or a potential maximiser. Just pick a name. The key idea here is that adding some Impact Thinking to whatever you do and adding an Impact goal to your activities is a powerful path to success.

At the end of the day, Impact Thinking is a way to rally others to your cause and to achieve more results without investing more resources yourself.

Simply put? Talking about Impact gives you an opportunity to inspire and leverage people, capital and man-hours. Talking about the Impact you want to have is the best way to get people on board, to create a common language. And when you do, your growth possibilities – as well as your Impact potential – become far more significant.

Key formula: Impact capital = Ability to leverage the right resource to achieve the right identified goal.

If you think about it, your Impact Capital is pretty much like soft power. When a country wants to make friends all over the world what do they do? They certainly don’t send tanks!

No, they build relationships. They create cultural alliances and find ways to introduce their culture to people of the countries they want to build a stable relationship with. Political scientists call this Soft Power, and in some situations they even talk about Smart Power (ask Nye, actually).

Well, Impact Thinking works the same way. The point is, playing things smartly demultiplies your Impact. And the rule clearly applies to your organization.

Whether you do business or research, making a difference isn’t just about sending the army in, or about doing things nobody notices.

Making a difference is about setting the right goal, about building the proper relations, about creating the right strategy and about involving the right resources to reach that goal. Investing in your Impact Capital does make sense. Acting otherwise simply doesn’t.

Most of us don’t even have conscience that this added capital is available, however, which means that once you are aware of the idea, there is ONE and UNIQUE way to move forward. You’ve got to be smart and start thinking impactfully. If you don’t, that’s fine. But that’s clearly on you.

Nothing easy there. You’ve got to sit down and think.

What is your Impact capital really about and how you can use it efficiently.

Then comes the question of how. There are two ways to use your Impact Capital, really. The first one relates to getting a big picture on what you do and how you do it. The second one is about deciding what to do, precisely, very precisely, to get things in the good direction.

Impact Capital: big picture mode.

First step, you need to think big.

Make yourself a cup of coffee (on this, here is a tip: tea works too, beer only works up to a certain extent, vodka is a guaranteed fail). Since you’re at it, switch your phone off too. Get a sheet of paper and a pen. And ask yourself the correct questions.

How do I spend my Financial Capital? Even better, how do I invest it in tasks and routines that actually make sense and makes a difference now or tomorrow? How do I use my Time Capital? How do I use the limited hours I have so that my work yields results? How do I invest in people to make sure that things get done efficiently, with specific skillsets and expertises?

Oh. And of course, what difference do I want to make? How do I Impact the world? How do I change the status quo? How do I solve that problem faced by this community or that other one? What is my impactfull value proposition?

The key thing here is this: cut the c***, and leave the BS away. Be honest with yourself. Find out what works and what doesn’t.

Impact Capital: defining the next steps.

Once you are clear with yourself – I mean, really clear – you can move to the next step. How do you turn results into exponentially bigger results?

What tools could you use to get things done faster, with a lesser investment in terms of time? What tools can you invest into to automate time-consuming tasks that basically keep you busy in a stupid way?

Have you considered how your research can actually help? What is you value out there in the wild? How is it going to change lives? How is it going to change a rule which makes no sense? How will it reduce a harm?

How do you make sure that your organization is actually visible, from a website perspective but also from your personal side of things? Do you have a story? Have you prepared a message to share with people? Do you even know how to formulate and communicate on a message?

For real…

These questions aren’t just decorum. They are a very serious and reliable tool when it comes to doing business more efficiently.

Funnily enough – or not, actually – when I look for one concrete case study to illustrate this idea, I can’t just find one story to tell in particular. Why? I have tons. Why tons? Because these questions are the core questions that very few people take the time to explore on their own.

I’ve worked in business, in academia, and even for the United Nation. And my conclusion is always that very few of the people I’ve talked to have actually taken the time to really think about where they were going and how.

Some of them tried to, but thinking about these things on your own usually isn’t a functional way to move forward so they got nowhere.

Those who didn’t make the effort didn’t go anywhere either, as it turned out. Even worse, they eventually got stuck. And that’s not surprising at all.

If you think about it, how can you get somewhere when you have no Impact strategy into place? How do you make the right investment choices when you have no idea about your basic assets? How do you build something when you haven’t taken the time to identify your strengths and your weaknesses? How do you make a difference if you don’t think in terms of actually making one?

Your Impact Capital is your core resource: you need to use it!

At the end of the day, the practical reality of business is this one: your cash, time and human Capital assets are the basis of your work, and your Impact Capital is your ability to put the right systems into place to optimize the use and profitability of the various resources you have at hand.

Most people never use their Impact Capital, but yours is your core resource. You need to use it!

Actionable takeaway: You have an Impact Capital, the only thing you have to do is to start using it.

The actionable takeaway here is very simple. We all have an action Capital built on three elements. Money. Time. And people.

More importantly, we also have an Impact Capital, which is a very powerful tool when it comes to leveraging the three assets we’ve just mentioned. Your Impact Capital isn’t just a fancy word nor a bad excuse to read a blog post instead of doing your work.

No. Your Impact Capital is THE tool you can use to amplify and multiply your results. Because thinking about the way you do things is the best way to excel at doing them. Simples!

Oh, and of course, if you need a little push to get there, please get in touch. I’ll be happy to help!

 

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Smashes, Bangs and Wows!

Impact? What do you mean ‘Impact’? The question keeps coming over and over so I have written this first episode of the Series to develop some food for thought on the matter. How I got involved with Impact work in the first place, what the term actually means, why it is relevant, how it can be used to bring things to another level, and all that. Are you interested in finding out more? Keep reading…

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Impact? What do you mean ‘Impact’? The question keeps coming over and over so I have written this first episode of the Series to develop some food for thought on the matter. How I got involved with Impact work in the first place, what the term actually means, why it is relevant, how it can be used to bring things to another level, and all that. Are you interested in finding out more? Keep reading…


 

Smashes, Bangs and Wows! (My Impact Genesis)

(Impact Series – Episode 1)

I used to be a researcher. I was paid to research the law, explore legal decisions, write, explore more legal texts and write even more. But then, things began to take a U-turn. I changed jobs.

Same place. Same office. Same computer screen. Same email address. And same colleagues. But a completely new job.

My boss came to my office one day. We talked about the last papers we had in the pipeline and discussed the remaining work on that book we were working on. And then, right before leaving my office, he threw the news at me. “The Board was looking for someone to build some network for the Faculty so I suggested you’d be the right guy for it“, he said, “we need a new policy center, something to build impact, you know?“.

I didn’t have much of a clue as to what they had in mind, to be honest. I had spent the past three years working on my files, playing things with a low profile and staying deliberately outside of influence zones and games. And I was well aware that change wasn’t a preoccupation in such a heavy institution.

At the same time, I had also worked as a consultant prior to doing this, turning research into profit-making and impactful content. And I had spent some time at business school too. Over the past years, I had also developed a small network of business people, outside of my comfort zone, just to keep things real.

In short, I realized that beyond appearances, my extra-curricular experiences had apparently made an impact on someone and that they would become a strength in the academic world after all. So I started to look into the thing.

Soon after, the Dean of the Faculty asked me to refocus my work, to join the Faculty’s Research Board, and to act as Head of Impact Strategy for Hong Kong’s best legal education institution. As it turned out, our research needed to get even better than it was, and I would be responsible for building the strategy to get there.

Meeting my Impact opportunity.

I attended some workshops, went to a couple of events organized by the university. And I quickly realized that something was emerging. For some reason, the Hong Kong Universities were now following a system originally developed five years ago in the UK to give wings to academia.

Academics are paid out of taxpayer money, after all, so the Brits decided that academic work would now need to become useful to the society, outside of academia. No more “making a contribution to academic literature”, as we say.

No. Research would now need to become impacting and impactful for the rest of the world, and Impact would become a new purpose for research.

“To be impactful or not to be impactful”, I said to myself at the time. Except that this little joke has since then become way more than a joke. Impact has become a question, an objective, a road map, a personal quest for meaning, and an even more personal mission.

What is Impact?

Like all the people in the workshops I attended, the first thing I began to think about was the meaning of ‘Impact’.

Nobody had a clue, really, because researchers are trained to research and write, not to use their research to change the world. But I could see that there was something to explore out there. If only because the term was a flying saucer in a room filled with fast-thinking and troubled minds.

Truth be told, though, defining the term is a real challenge. Look for ‘Impact’ online and see for yourself. ‘Im’pakt’ has a few definitions, some of which are far more interesting than others.

The first definition I bumped into was rather unoriginal. Impact is a “marked effect or influence” which can also be considered in terms of effect or impression, it said. Not very impactful…

So I looked for more and another definition emerged: an impact is the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another one, which in this case becomes a matter of collision, crash, smash, clash and bang.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, an impact also refers to the force or action of one object hitting another, or to a powerful effect that something, especially something new, has on a situation or person. Again, something like a bang.

Better, but I needed more so I looked for a little bit of provocation and went for the definitions of the sharp and corrosive humor of the Urban Dictionary. There, I found this. First, impact “usually refers to how shocking, thought-provoking or memorable some given item is (or likely to be)”. Second, “Wow is impact”.

In sum? An impact implies a forcible contact between two things and therefore is a matter of collision, smash, and bang. But it is also a matter of challenge, thoughtful provocation, shock and Wow. Much, much better.

Impact vs Impact.

But then another definition of impact came up and spoiled the fun. Dramatically, I mean. The word I picked after that wasn’t ‘impact’ but ‘impactful’, and what I found felt like a bombshell.

When defining ‘impactful’, users of the Urban Dictionary have a largely critique eye which pictures impact as a matter of marketing-based but otherwise perfectly hollow and nonsensical concept.

In 2007, for instance, J. Spaghetti (we’re still on Urban Dictionary, remember?) defined the word ‘impactul’ as a “non-existent word coined by corporate advertising, marketing and business drones to make their work sound far more useful, exciting and beneficial to humanity than it really is“.

This term“, Mr Spaghetti added, “is most frequently used in team building seminars and conferences in which said drones discuss the most effective ways to convince consumer zombies to purchase crap they clearly do not need or even want“.

Another definition popped up, eventually, alongside the idea that ‘impactful’ is a word “Commonly used in advertising” and which “refers to campaigns or executions with a positive effect on consumer perception or awareness“. In a talk I gave, as a matter of fact, a former advertising expert who participated in the conversation openly regretted that his late industry – whilst arguably producing Impact for its clients – only focused on what he called “meaningless creativity”.

Said differently? Beyond shock, smashes, bangs and Wow opportunities, “Impact” is also a term which denotes BS rather than strength, meaning, and impact.

My next step was obvious: I decided to disagree.

Thinking differently.

Beyond the initial disappointment, looking at those definitions got me thinking about verbs.

Excuse my French, English isn’t my native language, therefore, the wording of some definitions gave me some food for thought.

In particular: do you have an impact or do you make an impact?

I couldn’t explain the difference in the first place. In fact, I even wondered which of the two was a grammatical mistake. But both terms came up as valid. Valid but different, nonetheless, and something meaningful came out of it.

The power of “make”.

Think about it. People don’t “take” decisions, they “make” them. Said differently, a decision isn’t something you pick, it is something you provoke deliberately. So, I came up with another question. What if having an impact was not a matter of picking the low-hanging fruit but, instead, a matter of making a decision to make things smash, bang and Wow?

The distinction might seem irrelevant to you, but to me, it made an absolute difference. Shifting from provocative interpretations to verb analysis gave things a whole new dimension.

Having an impact is in the range of wishful thinking. At best, you “had” an impact in the past (congratulations), but for the majority of people, chances are that no impact has occurred yet and therefore having one is nothing but a vague goal. Having an impact is a dream, maybe a fantasy. Something impalpable and hardly measurable.

But making an impact is different. Making an Impact is all about action, about making things practical, palpable, visible and measurable. “Making an impact” denotes strength and it implies that a decision was made to smash, bang and Wow things up. And it requires the development of a strategy to turn a fantasy into something that effectively matters.

Making an impact denotes strength

The impact you have is (nothing but) the impact you make.

I thought about the best way to explain this, and I came up with the following idea – which has then become my own message: the impact you have is nothing but the impact you make.

Said differently? Forget the marketing BS and focus on real-world change.

There is no smoke without fire, and there is no impact without decisions or actions either. Impact is something you have to provoke and generate. Impact is something you must deserve. Because Smashing change, Bangs and Wows won’t just fall from the sky.

bangs & wows! won't just fall from the sky

Okay… How do we make an impact then?

The question of “how” we get there then comes up, and it is twofold.

Part of it is a matter of building a strategy and, obviously, implementing it impactfully. I will come back to this point in another article.

In my experience, indeed, there is no strategy-building without a prior realization that we, beyond the marketing BS, can make things change. ‘Things’ sounds too big here? Well, the point is to realize that we can at least make something change.

Status Quo aversion.

Making an impact always starts from an aversion to Status Quo and immobilism. Immobilism is a form of comfort, it goes without saying. At the end of the day, why should we try to change a winning team?

But immobilism is also the worst thing you can ever want. With immobilism comes a fear of challenges and a refusal to change. Before you know it, the mere idea of improving starts to be perceived as a threat. And then you are doomed. A sort of Smash, Bang and Wow, but a bad one.

Embracing change.

Instead of accommodating with immobilism, change is the best way to impact lives. Yours, to start with. And others’, too, which is far more interesting.

On a daily basis, embracing change isn’t complicated. It can be a matter of welcoming people with a smile, a matter of being a reliable friend even though you’d better be home with a beer. It can be a matter of being useful to others, and a matter of solving problems others get stuck with, without expecting anything in exchange.

Right. But making a real impact requires more than that. Making an impact requires a decision to change things for real.

Business and all that.

I wrote previously that, as far as business is concerned, the idea of making an impact is mainly questioned as a marketing tactic which, in essence, lacks essence and meaning.

But look around you.

Take Apple or Google and Amazon, for instance.

These brands’ current impacts are rather difficult to identify because, at the moment, the main concern is either their ability to evade tax or their negative influence on small shops and merchants.

Yet, Apple revolutionized our relationship with computers, music, and phones. Google has vastly impacted our approach to information and communication. And Amazon has probably created the biggest U-turn in the industry of retail.

Look at Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Their vision was to bring technology into our homes and lives. That’s an impact they had, without a doubt. Elon Musk worked on building electric cars and roofs, but his Space-X ships are about getting us into space. Impact. Double Impact. Triple Impact.

The point is, making an Impact doesn’t need to be associated with marketing BS aimed at cheating consumers and at producing money. Making an impact with business is a decision to make things different. It comes with a necessity to build a strategy, and it is tied to a need to actually, effectively, realistically and measurably change things, beyond making cash.

Impact in the business of non-profits.

Impact goals are also – and perhaps even more – relevant in the non-profit business.

At the end of the day, people don’t give money to charity without a good reason. Charity-giving has a single purpose, which is to improve a situation and help solve a problem, to have an impact on society, one way or another.

The same goes for the Research industry, as a matter of fact. The years where making an impact on the existing literature was sufficient are gone. Think about it, what is the point of spending years researching a topic if nothing changes?

What that means is simple, Impact in such contexts is even farther from the marketing BS mentioned by Mr Spaghetti. Impact is the bread and butter of all those organizations which are expected to alleviate instead of capitalizing.

There, again, strategies need to be put into place to make the desired impact happen. But the basis is the same. It all starts from a realization that another model is worth exploring and that we, independently or as a group, can make things change.

Personal Impact.

For the same reason, making an impact also makes sense at the individual level.

At the end of the day, why couldn’t we make things change? I worked with disabled kids in the past and was blessed to have a chance to impact a tiny portion of their lives. I advised some entrepreneurs and challenged the way they saw their business strategy, to eventually help them change the way their organization worked. And I am now working on turning Impact into a message and a mission.

Opportunities to make an impact are everywhere. All it takes to do that is the realization that we, you, and I, can make a difference with some Smash, Bangs and Wows… Don’t you think?

 

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