Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Behind Share Our Strength's growth: talent, imagination, stubbornness

Thanks to Paul Shoemaker, the visionary founder and leader of Social Venture Partners whom I greatly admire, for an e-mail yesterday asking if I could pinpoint the 2-3 most vital factors in Share Our Strength’s journey from start-up to more established national organization. He kindly suggested that I spend no more than 10 minutes on what could otherwise have been a months-long task.

In response, I shared the following: First, to state the obvious, we still have a long way to go at Share Our Strength. There is of course no secret sauce, but I would say that for an organization like ours it is all about talent and at several major junctures we very pro-actively set about upgrading our team, acknowledging the difficult truth that good was not good enough, and at least searching for great people with a wide variety of experience, often from the business community, that was different from our own. It made a big difference.

I also think that writing and publishing books about our learnings helped us to reach a larger audience. But probably most important, and this may seem at first like a “softer” answer than is helpful, I’ve really come to believe that most failures are not failures of money or strategy or planning or even of execution, but rather failures of imagination. At every critical turn for Share Our Strength we forced ourselves to imagine something that hadn’t been done before – whether it was a nationwide Taste of the Nation comprised of nearly a hundred events taking place at the same time or building a consensus to not only feed kids but actually end childhood hunger. Notwithstanding how unrealistic it might have seemed, we went for it. Even when we fell short it inspired people to do more than they thought they could.

Finally we are just plain stubborn. We keep at it. There are always some points to be had for that I guess.

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