Lean Impact: A book review by Bob Morris

Lean Impact: How to Innovate for Radically Greater Social Good
Ann Mei Chang
John Wiley & Sons (November 2018)

The most effective ways that organizations in the social sector can serve both funders and users

I agree with Ann Mei Chang that social innovation “involves iterative testing and improvement, refining business models, influencing partners and policy, finetuning logistics, and many other practicalities.” Those involved must have a Lean Impact mindset that embraces innovation primarily for purpose rather than for profit…although purpose and profit are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Chang identifies and examines three separate but interdependent core principles: Think BIG, start small, and relentlessly seek high impact. Although she does not cite them, I think there are two other insights that should also guide and inform Lean Impact initiatives. First, from Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.” The second, from Peter Drucker: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

She shares what she learned from more than 200 interviews of change agents involved with  Lean Impact social innovation initiatives throughout the world. They include (in alpha order): Civilla, d.light, Harambee Youth Accelerator, One Acre Fund, Summit Public Schools, and Vision Spring. Chang also draws upon her decades of wide and deep experience with not-for-profit, for-profit, and government organizations. They include Google, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the U.S. Department of State.

These are among the hundred of passages in Lean Impact that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Chang’s coverage:

o Applying innovation to social change (Pages 4-5)
o Lean Impact: Scientific methoid (14-15)
o Barriers to social innovation (20-22, 193-201, and 230-232)
o Identification of North Star (33-36)
o Design practices (39-41, 108-110, and 124-125)

o Brainstorming (53)
o Ideating for solutions (54-57)
o Harambee’s work with disadvantaged children (63-65, 67-68, 71-73, and 79-80)
o Three pillars for social innovation (67-68 and 90-94)
o Innovation metrics (73-74 and 236-237)

o Failure (86-90 and 239-240)
o Innovation for social impact (96-98)
o Data collection (98-100 and 107-108)
o Value (107-108, 110-112, 112-114, and 124-125)
o Design (108-112 and 160-161)

o Growth (129-131, 151-152, and 182-183)
o Limits of charity for funding (134-137)
o Code for America (146-147 and 204-205)
o Engines for growth: Big donors (148-150 and 258-259)
o Building a culture of innovation  (232-238)

If properly applied, the lean principles can help to produce high-impact results in almost every area of human activity. I was introduced to those principles in the late-1980s when I began to read a series of books by Jim Womack in the 1980s. The first was The Machine That Changed the World, published in 1990. He was at that time a key team leader in MIT’s International Motor Vehicle Program. Jim later co-founded the Lean Enterprise Institute with Dan Jones. For decades, he has insisted that lean is not only a mindset, a methodology, or even a system. It is a way of life.

More recently, Eric Ries has demonstrated the truth of that conviction in his two books, The Lean Startup in which he explains how today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses and The Lean Startup in which he explains how modern companies use entrepreneurial management to transform culture and drive long-term growth. Now we have another book in which Ann Mei Chang explains how to innovate for radically great social good. I highly recommend all three as well as the abundance of resources provided by the Lean Enterprise Institute as well as by Lean Startup Company.




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