We discuss what nonprofits should stop doing and other fun rapid fire questions with Brian Reich, Author of Shift & Reset and founder of little m media. In his book he asks us to ‘imagine that there is a meteor headed toward earth/your cause’, given this urgency how can we test solutions that actually work, solutions that have a chance to knock this meteor off course.
This is part 2 of 2 of our in-depth conversation with Brian.
George Weiner: My name is George Weiner, your host, and the chief whaler of WholeWhale.com. Thanks for joining us. Welcome to part 2 of our interview with Brian Reich, the author of “Shift and Reset,” founder of Little M Media. He is a very outspoken thought leader, I’d say and so I have a lot of fun with these questions I hit him with trying to put him off balance. Of course, I don’t succeed but we discuss things like what should the non-profit sectors stop doing, the mistakes he made and where he sees this sector going. I had a lot of fun with it and I hope you enjoy. Let’s get back into our part 2 series with Brian Reich.
What would be your advice to, you know, other non-profits that are trying to tackle digital impact and this idea. How does the digital sphere relate to our underlying mission, vision and goals?
Brian Reich: You know, all the things that people have said for a long time remain true. Which is not about the technology and you know, we, we have to be smarter; and data is really important and things like that. The, you know, the analogy that I used in chips reset, which I still use all the time, is this idea that there is a giant meteorite hurdling towards the planet or the sector and, you know, most people are looking at that meteorite going, you know. Whether it’s apathy or, you know, millennial still care about institutions or whatever excuse you want to make, you know. They’re staring at this thing as it gets closer and closer and the shadow engulfs us and eventually, you know, it will hit and destroy everything. But, if we can just knock that meteorite off course by one tiny degree two things happen. One: you save the world and you’re a hero, which is always appreciated. It gets you some additional attention, but more importantly, that one degree difference changes everything. Right? You start to see all sorts of different opportunities. Things that were hiding behind that meteorite that you didn’t know were there. So, the big picture point I, implore, beg, cajole people to take is stop sitting around and having a discussion about whether or not change is necessary or what change is worthwhile and just start doing things. Do different things. Do more things. Try 20 options instead of 2. If you’ve done something before and it didn’t, you know, knock it out of the park at 100% participation, try something slightly different next time. Because what we do know and what we are measuring now is very predictable responses to the same thing over, and over, and over and over again. And that is not going to make us progress. I don’t necessarily know what will make us progress but I know doing the same thing over and over again will not. So, you don’t have to be super ambitious. You don’t have to try things that I think are interesting. Everybody can have a different appetite, but we all have to have some appetite for trying new things and pushing a little harder and acknowledging that what we are doing isn’t working anymore and we have to do something different. The alternative to that is ya’ll keep doing what your doing, don’t change. You know, resist whatever it is, you know, criticize those who sound crazy but, you know, are just trying to come at things from a different place. And I don’t know, a year from now, 5 years from now, 10 years from now, you know. You can be out of business and, you know, you can have failed to have both achieve your mission and, you know, galvanized the public to get involved in a different way and that will actually clear up a lot of additional space for those of us who are just trying really hard everyday, you know, to crack the code. And, I don’t know. I could spend my entire lifetime and never crack the code but I’d like to, I’d like to go down fighting, trying. Instead of sitting around ringing my hands. You know, while these issues get worse and worse.
George Weiner: Yeah, and we’re in a unique place in I think history where we can look at examples of, you know, meteorites hitting organization companies like Kodak. Or industries, like the music industry and see what happens when you simply say let’s put up our walls and continue doing what we used to do because that’s what we do. And I like the idea of how do we adopt even a 1 percent shift in our daily, weekly, monthly behaviors that allow for experimentation. Especially on the digital side because it is certainly got the most upside potential in amplification.
Brian Reich: Yeah. I mean, look, one. I think we talk about a lot of things right now under the banner of change that are not actually changes. I think we talk about a lot of different variations on awareness. I think we talk a lot of, you know, about the sophistication of our ability to target audiences and optimize the ways that we, you know, create content or drive actions or whatever. But we’re still talking largely, not entirely, to the same audiences that we always have. We are largely telling the same stories and driving the same actions. So, yeah, we might get more people to sign petitions. Or we might get more people to watch YouTube videos. We might get more people to use a hashtag, which didn’t even exist, you know, not that long ago. Right? But it’s not actually changing the behavior of the people that are involved or the, the path to which we find potential solutions. And so if we confuse that different activity with actual change, actual animation, actual progress; we have no one to blame but ourselves when these problems get worse instead of better and we don’t actually open up to new opportunities where we might somehow discover a solution. You mentioned Kodak and folks like that. That’s the downside. If you did not adapt, you know, go away. But on the plus side, you see things like, you know, cancer and AIDS researchers who have toiled away by themselves in labs for a long time. And then, you know, open up their data or open up their process to others. And someone, you know, maybe just someone like a videogame designer comes along with a different perspective and everybody learns and you make these incredible leaps forward. It’s that kind of example. That’s not the model. I’m not like, saying everyone should invite a videogame designer into their process because they think differently but the point is we can talk amongst ourselves all we want and not get anywhere and pat ourselves on the back for the, you know, insufficient progress that we’re making. Or, you know, we can throw out what we know, you know, break down back to the pieces. Figure out what works, put it back together differently and see if that changes anything. And, you know, that’s. It’s a process argument but it’s, you know, it is a critical part of what we know. What society has worked in the past to, you know, drive actual changes. I just, you know, I would like us to be more focused, be more committed to doing exactly that stuff everyday, all the time; because, you know, as much as I advocate patience, I’m not really all the patient.
George Weiner: you don’t strike me as super patient. [laughs]
Brian Reich: No. I mean, I just, you know, I’ve always been this way. It’s extra, in the case that I have kids, now that I have kids but it’s like, you know, we can see that the path that we’re on is no different than the path we have been on before. And yet we know all these other sectors outside of the non-profit space are changing and disrupting what they are doing, and people are adapting and having to solve new problems. We’re not going to solve these issues but at least I would like us to be having different discussions than the ones when I started work, you know, almost 20 years ago. And unfortunately, aside from the name on the platform that we’re talking about, the question, then the core argument, even in some of the most incredible and highly successful and well-branded and, you know, financially, you know, benefitting organizations in the country we’re still having the same conversations instead of, you know, fundamentally blowing it up and putting it back together differently and seeing what happens then.
George Weiner: Yeah. Alright. So I want to shift a bit to some sudden more rapid fire. Burst your bubble a little bit. Talk to me about the mistake you made earlier in your career related more to maybe the role of impact sector, non-profit world. Give us something here.
Brian Reich: There are so many. I would say that the biggest mistake I made was I made it 3 or 4 times and now I know never to make it again is I went to work for an agency. There are some wonderful agencies out there. I have a lot of friends, you know, I have done a lot of work with great agencies. The structure of an agency rewards doing the same thing over and over again with greater efficiency because it’s a margin driven business. And so the, the reward for going and doing new things every time and, you know, breaking things and, you know, saying things that your client doesn’t want to hear but is also going to propel them forward. That’s just not there. That incentive is not there. And so I would say over the course of my almost 20 year career, the 5 or 6 years in and out of different agencies, some of the biggest and best in the world, were years where I was treading water instead of, you know, learning enough and moving forward and helping to move the space forward. So, I take responsibility for that. I apologize for going and thinking that like less expensive health care, or working as part of a team in a nice office was, you know, a better way to affect change when, you know, unfortunately being scrappy and being loud and, you know, working with whoever I needed to work with to get things done seems to, seems to be the way to get greater, you know, direct impact that has more help for the space.
George Weiner: I forgive you. Consider yourself forgiven. Next up, what is something you think, now I’m not going to say in your general sector, but actually the foundation world. What is something you think the foundation world should stop doing?
Brian Reich: I think the foundation world needs to stop putting the, stop dictating the terms of their grants so significantly. I think the reporting requirements and the sort of almost RFP nature of the grants that they’re giving where a project is very clearly dictated in the beginning and has to play itself out in full to the end and, you know, be all wrapped up. It limits, if not, entirely discourages innovation and learning. That’s not to say that I don’t think the foundation should continue to invest in learning and the kinds of ambitious stuff they’re doing. That’s great, but I think they need to take some of the shackles off or find new ways to, you know, to monitor progress and ensure that the money is being well and effectively spent in real time because over the course of a year or 2, 3, 4 year grant, I mean there’s so many more things you can do if folks didn’t have to adhere so strictly to the rules that have been set at the beginning.
George Weiner: Yeah. It is a tough double edge sword. I feel that in both of our thinking we do believe in metrics and measurement and progress. But if you make it too prescriptive and you’ve basically been funded down a path that you find out doesn’t work in the first quarter of the process but still have to follow through. That’s a waste.
Brian Reich: Well, you know, what, it’s not entirely fair the blame the foundation because actually many, not all, but many foundations are big and aggressive and interesting ones, they understand that. But I do think that there is a communications problem between, you know, those who are making the grant and those who receive the grant. If the foundation said, you know, we all agree what we are funding you to try and do, try and learn, try and achieve and we want to see the most exciting work I think that would be; give permission to the people on the receiving end of the grants to, you know, to mix things up a little bit. But there is such a reliance on, you know, the funding that foundations provide that the recipients are afraid that, afraid to piss of the foundation. They’re afraid to fail. They’re afraid to stray. So I actually believe that foundations want to move progressively to solve the problems. I think their structure that exists and the accountability they demand is misinterpreted by the recipients and what they really need to do is they need to say is, “Look. I’m going to commit the money for 5 years but every 6 months, or every 3 months, we’re going to revisit the plan. And if we need to change the plan, that’s fine, but you don’t need to worry about the dollars for 5 years. We, we are investing in you because we believe you can lead us, you know, to the kind of learning and solutions that matter. We’re not investing in just one particular approach that if we find in the first quarter has gone off track, you know, we’re going to blame you for doing what we told you initially we wanted you to do.” Like it needs to be that , that flexibility needs to come in both sides. It’s not all on the foundations, but because they have the money, you know, they set the terms. And I think they need to communicate a little better that their terms cans be flexible to achieve the desired outcome.
George Weiner: Yeah and I think there’s definitely been a shift over, you know, the past 5 years, the past 10 years in the way the foundation world has approached it. I have seen it first hand and at large, which is kind of nice to see. Alrighty. Next question here is if I give you like a magic, let’s call it potion, that could fix one thing in every, one thing in every profit, what would it be slash do.
Brian Reich: It would make everyone dramatically more curious. I think curiosity and imagination are the greatest resource that we can apply to some of these complex problems and they are in the shortest supply. We have a fundamental imagination gap. People will not do things that they have not done before. Either because they are afraid, or they don’t understand it or they don’t know how to do it or it’s hard. There’s a lot of reasons. We need to close that imagination gap and a big part of doing that is making everybody curious and a little cynical. Curiosity and cynicism to me are 2 sides of the same coin. So we are not satisfied with what we have achieved. We are in fact always hungry, you know, so hungry that we never sleep. So hungry that, you know, when something happens we are curious why it happened and what we could do if we tried it differently and what happens next. And that curiosity doesn’t, you know, you don’t actually need to not sleep, we don’t constantly need to be running at a 1000 miles per hour. But that intellectual curiosity drives so much potential for different thinking and different approaches and you know people just are not curious enough. You know, and that’s what we need. So, if we had a magic potion to just make everyone insanely curious all the time, that I think would be transformative.
George Weiner: brilliant. I will start working on that in the whole whale labs immediately.
Brian Reich: I appreciate that. I think it needs to have a good scent to it. People are going to use it so just putting that out there.
George Weiner: Good. Good. We will get a feature list together. Final question. You personally, Brian, in your company, Little M Media, what is something you want to stop doing?
Brian Reich: You know, I want to stop, I want to stop basically having to work for money and find the way to be involved in projects and have the impact that I know I can have which is often through my speech writing and content and that kind of stuff. That nobody else can have. I realize that that’s probably everyone’s goal, to some extent. Right? But, you know, unfortunately I think that the greatest impact that I can have is less monitizable, less structured skills that other people have. But we need both of them, so if there was a way to, you know, have whatever, 3 months, 6 months, where I didn’t have to move from project to project. Where I didn’t have to move from getting paid a certain amount each month, to just you know, live the life I need to live and support my family and all that stuff. I think I could, you know, just do even more, do something incredibly interesting things. Learn a ton more. But there are days were it just feels like, you know, the rat race takes over. And I certainly don’t want to ever lose my belief that in support the work on, you know, important things and my belief if I continue to work and I continue to push and I continue to rant and shake my fist at the moon that we will eventually find the solutions to these complex problems. But the economic construct of the way we have to work and the value of certain roles, and certain skills and certain things at certain times, you know, doesn’t always line up to make the, you know, where I am in the position to do, you know, the work that I think is most important. And I think if I could stop, you know, having to chase, you know, chase money at least for a little period of time. I think it could, you know, it could unlock a lot of things personally but also in relation to all the people and the things that I work with. which I would like to think that other people would find valuable as well, but hey.
George Weiner: We’d have to look at the date for that one.
Brian Reich: Yeah.
George Weiner: Awesome, Brian. Thank you so much and as a final piece here tell a little bit about how and why people should work with Little M Media and how they find you.
Brian Reich: Sure. The people that I want to work with are the people that I, you know, think I can support best are the people who are willing to, you know, go for it. I’m sorta issue agnostic but I want the people who can commit. Who want to do ambitious things and similar. If you go to ShiftandReset.com, you know, you can see my blog and my bio and some of the other things I work on. You can track down stuff about the book. You can see what I am talking about and my obsessive desire to work with people who just want to go for it. So check it out there. You can find me on Twitter @brianreich. But, yeah, there are a lot of people out there who can do good work for you or you can hire really great writers. You know, I always appreciate calls but the people I want to work with are the people who are ready to go mix it up and, you know, change the world in a dramatic and sustainable way. And otherwise I will just refer you to one of those people who does great work but is much more comfortable with like a more normal kind of approach.
George Weiner: Awesome. So you’re the guy I talk to when I want to solve big freaking problems.
Brian Reich: Bingo.
George Weiner: Thanks so much for taking the time today and incredibly valuable insights. Thanks so much, bud.
Brian Reich: Thank you. Always a pleasure.
George Weiner: We jumped around a lot of topics here and I wonder looking back at this 2 part series, what really stuck with you? What do you think your organization should be trying and doing differently? My favorite part, well actually I will just replay it for you. “I think curiosity and imagination are the greatest resources that we can apply to solving these complex problems and they are in the shortest supply.” I think that captures it and if you walk away from this podcast with anything, curiosity and imagination apply to social causes that matter will only help you achieve your goal and you know what? God forbid, maybe even have some fun along the way. As always, thanks for joining us. We’ll have tons of resources at WholeWhale.com/podcast and you can always call up and find Brian’s company, Little M Media, and we will have those links for you.
This has been using the Whole Whale. For more resources on todays show, please visit wholewhale.com/podcast and consider following us on Twitter, @Whole Whale. And thanks for joining us.