Idea No. 1
Social expectations are the secret code for all innovation and change.
The science is conclusive - social norms and conventions are the single biggest influence on human behavior. Biology, neurochemistry, and behavioral economics get all the press, but social cues and social expectations are really behind everything we do. This means we'd be smart to focus our change efforts - our market innovations, our organizational change and our social reform - on altering what people expect of each other.
Here's what I've done so far: I developed an original, systematic approach to unearthing and changing social norms to solve social problems - which has been taught since 2016 at the University of Southern California, as a centerpiece of the nation's first doctorate in social innovation. Here's a trailer for a video series on the approach.
Here's what I'm doing next: I’m collaborating with designers and design instructors on a new, more accessible approach anyone can use to reveal and change social expectations. I’m also working with a handful of companies, social initiatives and schools to adapt the new approach for use in their industries, on their specific challenges, and for their students.
Idea No. 2
We're missing the sequence for solving the world's problems.
If we need step-by-step directions for assembling IKEA furniture, then we certainly need them for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. There are the lives of 7 billion people and the habitability of the planet at stake - not to mention $45 trillion. So we can’t keep making decisions about what to invest in and where to intervene based on hunches and inspirational stories.
Here’s what I've done so far: I pulled together a team from New America and the OECD to survey political scientists, economists and social scientists around the world to see what they think is the ideal order for tackling all of the world’s problems. Here's some of what we found. (Click the graphic to expand it.)
Here's what I’m doing next: I’m partnering with top data and AI scientists to develop the first machine learning application that can tell us how efforts to solve one of the world’s many problems helps or hurts our efforts to solve the others. And then we can finally develop a legitimate strategy for saving the world.
I've been doing social innovation since before it was a thing.
Innovator in Residence
University of Southern California
Dworak-Peck School of Social Work
( 2014 - ) As the inaugural Innovator in Residence, I facilitated design and development of the first professional doctorate in social innovation, the first graduate nursing program to emphasize both biomedical and social factors, a graduate fellowship in social innovation, and the field’s first academic roundtable on social innovation. I have also contributed to others' breakthrough work in child welfare, arts and social change, expansion of the scope of social work, and the field’s national priorities.
Co-founder and Director
UX for Good
(2011 - ) I launched the first effort to leverage experience design to solve social problems. Among its initial ventures have been partnerships with the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education to advance social-emotional learning in public schools, with Aegis Trust to boost the impact of genocide memorials in Africa and Europe, and with the GRAMMY Foundation to raise the standard of living for professional musicians in New Orleans.
Founder and Dean
(2010 - 2014) I enlisted more than 600 scientists, artists, academics, and executives to rethink strategy for 45 governments, institutions and NGOs - including the U.S. Department of State, Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital, National Endowment for the Arts, Harvard Medical School, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, TED Conferences, Ashoka, NASA, United States National Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Community of Democracies. I co-founded and facilitated Law 2023, a partnership with executives in the U.S. legal industry to analyze trends in technology, economics, and demographics and their future impact on the business of law. I also designed and developed the Greenhouse Fellowship, a partnership with the Foundations of East Chicago, Indiana to prepare the city’s next generation of civic leaders.
Bretton Woods II Fellow
(2015 - ) I developed the first-ever sequence for achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals - based on a survey with the OECD of economists, political scientists and social scientists around the world. I am now partnering with data and AI scientists to develop the first machine learning application for determining the optimal order for addressing SDG targets.
Founder and Managing Director
(2014 - 2017) I developed Innovation Dynamics, the first systematic approach to social innovation and change - now taught in universities and the private sector. I also managed most of the company’s consulting portfolio and contributed to the company’s work in training and education.
Founder and Managing Director
Leitner Public Affair
(2003 - 2009) I designed public affairs and engagement strategies for a dozen corporations, institutions and non-profits. Some of the resulting initiatives are still running, including a new national model for taxicab advertising, an alliance between businesses and community colleges in Michigan, and Job1 - a partnership between Rotary and the City of Chicago to provide jobs and job training for disadvantaged youth.
Vice President of Public Affairs
The Haymarket Group
(1997 - 2003) I managed or consulted to more than 30 political campaigns - including those for U.S. Congressman, Illinois Governor, Illinois Treasurer, Illinois Supreme Court Justice, Illinois Appellate Court Justice, Cook County State’s Attorney, Cook County Commissioner, and Chicago Alderman - and more than a dozen public affairs campaigns on behalf of governments, universities, hospitals, corporations and nonprofits.
So holler if you want me to speak or if you need to interview me.
I've given lots of talks and led a ridiculous number of workshops over the past 15 years, including at Wilton House in Sussex, UK; for the Legal Marketing Association in San Diego, CA; at the Design Action Conference in Washington, DC; for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in New York City; for Grantmakers in the Arts in Los Angeles; as part of the Islandwood Roundtable on Innovation in Social Work at Bainbridge Island, WA; at the Singapore Embassy in Washington, DC; at KIN Global in Evanston, IL; at the Chicago-Kent College of Law in Chicago; for Global Friends in Courchevel, France; at Techweek in Chicago; at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering in Los Angeles; at HATCH in Bozeman, MT; for Electronic Resources & Libraries in Austin, TX; and at TEDActive in Palm Springs, CA. You get the idea.
My work has also been featured in magazines, such as Forbes, Fast Company, GOOD and The Chronicle of Philanthropy; books, such as "Innovation: How Innovators Think, Act & Change our World," "Ending Human Trafficking & Modern Day Slavery," and "I Have a Strategy (No You Don’t);" online, including at NBCNews.com and Harvard Medical School News; and on radio and podcasts, such as WBEZ and Disruptive Conversations. Again, you get the idea.