February 23, 2017

Recommended Reads for Transformative Scale: February 2017

By: Jeff Bradach

I’m always looking for new takes on how to achieve impact at a transformative scale. Here are five interesting articles I came across this month:

1. “The ‘Secret Sauce’ to Scaling Up Quality Education in Developing Countries”: Julia Gillard (@JuliaGillard) and Jenny Perlman Robinson (@JennyPerlman) published an insightful piece at Stanford Social Innovation Review. Among other considerations, they “found that too often initiatives are designed and tested for effectiveness, but not for the efficiencies required for scale.” This is a basic, but crucial observation—and one too often ignored. Put simply, demonstrating the efficacy of a model does not imply it can be scaled. Weaving cost considerations and demand-generation strategies into the design process, for instance, can often mean the difference in whether an effort achieves impact at a transformative scale.

2. “The Heroism of Incremental Care”: Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) offers thought-stirring ideas in his New Yorker piece about the often-overlooked value of incremental healthcare. Surgeons have long garnered much higher wages than primary care physicians, Gawande points out, because their actions can immediately be judged as valuable, even heroic. But now, “the incrementalists are overtaking the rescuers” due in part to the abundance of health data that is demonstrating their invaluable role. This is a promising trend—and it extends far beyond health care. While our systems reward the heroic intervention, it is often the small, iterative improvements that penetrate broader systems and lead to transformative impact.

3. “Why We Invested: GiveDirectly”: Omidyar Network’s Tracy Williams and Mike Kubzansky (@MikeKubzansky) write on Medium about the promise of a universal basic income (UBI) to address poverty alleviation. The article spotlights GiveDirectly (@Give_Directly), which is running a scientifically rigorous UBI pilot in Kenya over 12 years. If GiveDirectly achieves promising long-term outcomes, it could raise the bar against which other poverty-alleviation programs are compared: does your intervention outperform simply providing equivalent resources directly to the individual or family? Furthermore, UBI efforts bring important attention to the changing nature of work in society, offering potential solutions to the seismic shift of technology displacement and job automation that has already begun.

4. “America’s Great Working-Class Colleges”: This New York Times column by David Leonhardt (@DLeonhardt) explores the findings of a recent study of college graduates. Leonhardt reports that the schools doing the best job creating upward mobility for low-income students are the unsung workhorses of higher education such as community colleges, state universities, and others. To illustrate this point, when compared to all the Ivy League institutions plus four elite universities, the City University of New York system had over five times the number of students who came from the bottom fifth of the income distribution and achieved significant upward mobility! An important reminder that rather than seeking brand new solutions to old problems, there are often existing platforms that are doing good work and with further support could do even more.

5. “Why the Best Innovators Ask the Most Beautiful Questions”: Lisa Kay Solomon (@LisaKaySolomon) at SingularityHub interviews Warren Berger (@GlimmerGuy) about his new book, A More Beautiful Question. Berger asserts that “a beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can shift the way we think about something and may serve as a catalyst for change.” This resonates. I’ve found that leaders who strike the right balance—or tension, even—between ambitious and actionable questions are often the best at driving towards impact at a transformative scale.

You can find posts about transformative scale, including past installments of Recommended Reads, on our blog. I also Tweet regularly about transformative impact at scale: @JeffBradach.

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