Images from the Insight Labs discussion January 20, 2012. Photos by
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Nearly everybody gets brainstorming wrong. That’s the central idea of an interview in Forbes with Jeff Leitner, about halfway through our five-year run of leading Insight Labs.

“Don’t brainstorm. I know that’s deeply counter-intuitive, but brainstorming in a group is a waste of the group’s inherent value. We believe strongly that an idea we create collectively – you say something, I add something, you challenge, I improve, etc. – is infinitely more valuable than an idea that one of us generates alone, even if the collective idea isn’t quite right.

“Brainstorming, as it’s generally proselytized, is a solitary activity practiced together. You don’t need collaborators for that.”

We launched Insight Labs in 2010, and in only five years, engaged more than 750 big thinkers from business, government, philanthropy, academia and the arts to solve problems on behalf of 45 public, private and social-sector institutions.

Relationship Rx

Amidst all the talk of new drugs and breakthrough technologies, many people forget that relationships are the unassailable key to medical care. We dug deep into those relationships in a couple of projects, including one profiled in Harvard Medical School News.

The subject of the story was our work with Family Van, a Harvard-based mobile health clinic serving disadvantaged neighborhoods in the Boston area. In that work, we learned that what made Family Van – and actually, all mobile health clinics – successful was not the way the vehicles traveled from community to community, but the kind of relationships they formed while they were there.

“If the systems in the medical field understand that medicine is more effective in a relationship between a caregiver and a patient,” Jeff Leitner said in the piece, “they will embrace it as a challenge they face and be more willing to utilize mobile medicine to its fullest.”

We also examined medical relationships – specifically, those driven by the patients – in our work with a health care start-up. We expanded on our work in this area through development of the advanced practice nursing program at the USC Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and in Health Plus Social, our published inquiry into the social determinants of health and professional education.

Scale for impact

In the 20th century, the signs of an influential organization were obvious: more offices, more members, more dollars, more everything. But in our times, some of the most influential organizations are those that make the biggest impact with the smallest number of people – be it a digital startup or a terror cell.

This idea is called “scale for impact.” It animated a discussion Andrew Benedict-Nelson chaired at the Ashoka Future Forum. Flipping the usual format, he asked the assembled social entrepreneurs what decisions they had made to increase their impact without growing in size.

“The ability to generate demand for your mission is key to successful scaling, and generating demand requires new structures, new thinking and new networks,” Ashoka’s Avani Patel reported in Forbes after the event. “In a world where everyone can—and must—be a changemaker, we must be willing to constantly adapt our models, avoid repetition, and find partners in unlikely places.”

This wasn’t the only time we took on this problem with Ashoka; we also worked with their team to ask how we might scale up empathy in schools.