Eli MacLaren

Create the Conditions for Extraordinary

Coming off #BIF10  my fourth collaborative innovation summit at the Business Innovation Factory  I am grounded in a single thought:

People are extraordinary.

People are really, truly extraordinary.

Consider, for instance:

Camille and Genevieve Beatty, who are talented robotics engineers, receiving commissions from museums around the world, and who just happen to be teenagers.


David Bolinsky, who moved heaven and earth (also known as Chinese bureaucracy) to change the life of a single little girl he met on a bus; she had him at "antidisestablishmentarianism."


Arlene Samen, who is saving mothers and babies in the harshest conditions in the world, because the Dalai Lama invited her. 

The list goes on.

One could argue that the BIF Summits filter for extraordinary. We do indeed filter for a personal story — the people willing to make themselves vulnerable by revealing the gritty, sometimes unflattering, often sad, side of our transformational experiences. 

More importantly, I think the BIF stage purely shines the spot light on what is possible in each of us, and in that sense, we invite it. We create the conditions for the extraordinary to emerge. And this begs a beautiful question:

As we  a community of thoughtful, loving, and purposeful people  exit the theatre, how might we create the conditions for the extraordinary to emerge everywhere?

Based on my takeaways from the Summit, and the BIF work in the Experience Labs, here are my thoughts on how we do this:

Open business models that invite, enlist, and include.

Running through David Bolinsky's story is an ongoing tale of education's loss. Bolinsky was kicked out of medical school because of his focus on the visual arts; and yet, he went on to create this beautiful animation of the cell which helps medical students understand the human body much better than literature alone. Deeper in his story, we learn that a private school in Connecticut refused to accept his Chinese daughter, as she didn't have any existing school credentials; and yet, she was completely self-taught in English using the great works of Shakespeare. 

When we create exclusive, closed models based on static rules, we are unable to see and accept extraordinary in its various forms. We also don't inspire or give permission for creative exploration. We fail to unleash extraordinary potential.

Consider Cheryl Dahle's approach to saving the world's fish supply, a problem otherwise defined as "a lost cause." She's imagining a world full of possibility, and is inviting others to share that stage. She's not creating criteria that exclude people. Quite the opposite, she's enlisting a wide variety of changemakers and unleashing a force of extraordinary good in service of a huge problem. 

Rely on the art of co-creation. 

Contribution of our extraordinary gifts often requires invitation. I believe this is the art of co-creation. When invited to participate, everyone contributes an element - e.g. point of view experience, knowledge, resources - that when combined create relevant solutions. Further, engagement in an end solution is going to grow in parallel to engagement in the process. But, with no mal-intent, this is not how most people work. Angela Blanchard said this beautifully: 

"We don't listen. We colonize people with our beliefs." 

Angela's work transforming communities demonstrates that inviting people to share their gifts and strengths, rather than focusing on fixing whats wrong with them, is a scalable idea of social transformation. 

Matthew Fritz, Chief of Staff for US military operations in Afghanistan relies on cocreation to generate more relevant solutions, and shows us that cocreation works at scale and in the toughest conditions. Matthew also reminds us that everyone - from the janitor to the highest ranking official  has something extraordinary to offer. When co-creation becomes part of our regular practice, this insight no longer surprises us. We should come to expect greatness from everyone, and not simply be surprised when it is there. 

Stories are the language of potential.

My final takeaway from #BIF10 is the inherently relational nature of this work. We invite, we enlist, we co-create. In order to do this, we must quickly understand "the other" and know what they are capable of. This is the work of story. There is no algorithm. There is no big data set. We must quickly and authentically connect with others. Someone once said that the story is the shortest distance between two people, and I do believe that for this purpose of unleashing people's great gifts, stories are the tool. 

All the stories on the #BIF10 stage reflect this, and it is their stories that make us think  "wow, that is an extraordinary person." And herein lies the opportunity:

Through open business models, co-creation, and personal stories, can we create the conditions for the extraordinary to emerge in all of us, everywhere? 

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