Writing & Publishing

The hinge

searchWe’re certainly not the only people who work in big ideas with the potential for positive, disruptive social impact. So we created the publishing imprint GreenHouse Collection to allow others to share their big ideas in depth.

Our first release – Search: How the Data Explosion Makes Us Smarter – explores just how human and artificial intelligence are likely to collaborate. The author, Stefan Weitz, was then director of search at Microsoft and a regular in the conversations in Silicon Valley and around the world about how such technology might evolve.

“What is exciting to me is viewing the power and humans not as an ‘either/or’ but an ‘and,” Weitz writes. “What we need is a hinge that can join together the best parts of machines and the best part of humans. We need a metaphorical version of the corpus callosum, the bundle of neural fibers that is located at the center of the brain and connects the two hemispheres.”

“I contend that this hinge between human and machine is search. It’s not the search you know today, and likely not even the search that the big technology companies are building – but it’s the search that comes into view when we think about it less as a tool for finding pages on the web and more as a group of functions that can be deployed to make us smarter, happier, and better connected in our real-world lives.”

Social health

hplussThere is now widespread agreement that social determinants – factors like race, class and zip code – have greater influence on our health than does our biology. But the health care system has been slow to evolve, leaving providers ill-equipped to help patients and others in need.

GreenHouse has jumped into the void, developing the publication Health Plus Social to explore social determinants and the implications for the training of health care professionals. The publication is part of our efforts as Innovator in Residence to give shape to the new graduate nursing program at the University of Southern California, the first such program housed in a school of social work.

“The basic reason for the neglect of social determinants in health care is that the system is primarily set up to treat acute, biomedical problems,” wrote the report’s editor, Andrew Benedict-Nelson. “Substantial work remains if we hope to translate our understanding of social determinants into practical, specific protocols for care on the individual or community level.”

Challenges like this are now being tackled in inter-professional collaborations, such as one GreenHouse helped launch in summer 2016.

Now you can

51w3rlo0jlNo big idea – no matter how elegant, inspiring or right – can come to life by itself. Execution of big ideas requires strategy, which has become in recent years such a fuzzy, imprecise terms that most ideas are never animated.

We’ve tried to solve this problem, one that arises over and over again in our collaborations, by simply explaining what strategy is. Howell Malham Jr. wrote and illustrated our first book, I Have a Strategy (No You Don’t): The Illustrated Guide to Strategy, to make it crystal and entertainingly clear for anybody charged with implementing a big idea.

“There are worse crimes than using a word incorrectly, but not many,” Malham writes. “For me, there is nothing more important than understanding the words we use to communicate the thoughts and ideas we have – especially when we’re communicating with each other. It’s how civilization became, well, civilized.”

“One person may say tom-a-to, the other may say tom-ah-to – but woe if one of those people believe tomato means shoehorn. Or worse.”

Open questions

There is a troubling disconnect between social innovation theory and practice. In response, GreenHouse is developing the first-ever casebook for social innovation practitioners – leveraging the pedagogy currently used by universities to train professionals in law, medicine and business. We’re drawing on the best aspects of this tradition but making a crucial change: the problems we’re tackling will not be closed cases, but open questions facing society.

The casebook will be predicated on the social norms approach to social innovation, and will include in-depth exploration of innovation related to 15 social challenges, including mental health, childhood obesity, sexual assault, animal maltreatment, decarceration, foster care, refugees, disaster preparedness, homelessness, social isolation, and access to the legal system.

The casebook will be introduced at the University of Southern California, in the nation’s first doctorate in social innovation.

Asking for the impossible

Big, new ideas do not emerge from incrementalism and virtually never materialize in conventional business settings. That’s the central idea of “Dream On: The Art of Strategic Imagination,” a piece Howell Malham Jr. wrote for the business journal Leader to Leader.

“The imagination stage of strategic development is neither analysis nor synthesis – it is seeing and thinking in the subjunctive in order to discover that which has yet to be known: a pre-reality.

“Unsurprisingly, this is a fundamentally different process – different from  every other stage of development, and it requires different kinds of people in the room. Not planners and analysts, who come armed to the teeth with data, and who—to be fair—are not expected or required to imagine beyond the latest infographics on customers ‘most likely’ or ‘least likely.’

“Ask yourself: ‘Where and when does that kind of thinking happen now in my world?’ Odds are you’re investing in incremental innovation: refining existing principles, processes, and products, not transforming or, even bolder, transcending them. And that’s okay. New and improved dishwasher soap is a much safer bet than designing a universe where nothing ever gets dirty. But strategic imagination begins by asking for the impossible.”