Starting the Transformation Conversation with a BIF Membership

“ I want to be realistic about innovation within a large institution. I don’t want innovation to die on the vine. Start-ups can be disruptive because they are not encumbered by existing systems and business models. They can create the space to start from scratch and re-imagine what is.”

It is the start of 2018, and BIF’s Patient Experience Lab Manager and I are easing into a conversation with an innovation leader within a large health care system.

This conversation is familiar; it starts in similar territory as many others. “Tell me about your innovation agenda,” I ask. “What is the mix of incremental and transformational?”

Invariably the response, like the one above, skews incremental, and it is not without good reason. Incremental feels safer and more realistic; more manageable and more practical. It skews towards easy wins with stories of success that will light up leaders’ appetites for more. It favors solutions to known problems that can demonstrate an ROI that is consistent and valuable to the existing model. It leans into concepts that can scale using existing infrastructure; change management need not apply. It will often call for diluting the innovation imperative by building a culture of innovation.

Despite this approach being the “norm,” most executives are dissatisfied with their innovation portfolios. Few generate “breakthrough” innovations that are commercialized. Few prevent disruption from smaller and faster start-ups and may lead to organizational friction. The average tenure of an innovation leader is less than 24 months. One of BIF’s members once told me that the commonly used acronym for Chief Innovation Officers (CIO) could just as easily translate to Career Is Over.

The problem? Institutions need an innovation strategy that can both improve the way the model currently works, while exploring and testing new business models, but most institutional leaders are ill-prepared to envision, structure, and roll-out this type of portfolio, in part, because they don’t have visibility into the possibility of the “both/and.” Instead, they are lured into the safety and rationale of incremental change.

Which is why BIF’s work begins by dismantling the myths that ground incremental innovation as the only safe and practical approach:

Innovation Doesn’t Die BECAUSE It is Transformational

Innovation doesn’t die because it is transformational. Transformational innovation dies because it lacks support and resourcing from leadership. Leadership is the number one condition for enabling business model innovation. In our experience working with clients across health care, education, and public service, leaders intent on transformation will break down silos, challenge institutional norms, and mobilize the unusual (and necessary internal) stakeholders required for transformational work.

A Start UP Is Not the Only Space to Explore New Business Models

Start-ups are often lauded for their innovation capacity because they are encumbered by incumbent models (or the straight jacket of an existing business model). But a start-up is not the only space for the exploration of new business models. Start-ups are not the only space to be lean and agile in service of new models. The answer lies in creating an adjacent space, well resourced, and visible. This is significantly more than the IKEA furniture, whiteboards, and sticky notes of innovation theatre. This is more than “running fast, low, and dark” — the operating model of many “skunk works” innovation teams.

The adjacent space needs to be able to access the capabilities of the institution — such that it can access the raw ingredients that can be baked into new conceptual designs. The secret sauce here is gaining permission to “borrow” capabilities — without disrupting the flow and efficiency of existing operations, while simultaneously being able to free capabilities and deploy them into small-scale innovation experiments.

The adjacent space needs to be visible, with permeable walls such that the learnings can be in service of the new and the old models. It needs to have a clear agenda and mandate with the resources required to do the work.

Think BIG. Start Small. Scale Fast.

This is an often quoted philosophy here at BIF and for good reason. We need to think big. Patients, citizens, and students are all screaming for better models while existing models are collapsing under their own weight, as well as pressure from disrupters. Transformation is the imperative. We know that Rome wasn’t created in a day, and neither was transformational practices. This is how a generative approach to testing, refining, and testing again leads us safely into the future. Our labs focus on what the user needs, translates this into a future-facing customer experience, and defines the next practice that will underscore this customer experience with opportunities for both improving the way the models work today and bridging into the business model of the future.

This approach enables us to identify what the “it” is before we focus on how it will scale. Only once new models have been proven to work for a small N (the size of the N relative to the size of the test group), do we figure out how we would engineer it to serve the N of an alpha group, then the N of a beta group — so on and so forth.

I think often that the goal of early conversations with innovation leaders is simply to dismantle these myths, to widen the aperture of what is considered safe and practical when it comes to an innovation portfolio. A mix of incremental and transformational is important and within reach of most leaders, if they have the will and know-how.

Sometimes leaders are ready to jump into the exploration of transformational next practices and new business models, but more often than not, they need to see the path, understand the investment, and bring stakeholders (especially their Boards) along for the ride. At BIF, we created Membership as an easy way to help leaders do this and leaders have used in a variety of ways:

  • To work with leadership teams to frame the innovation mandate and agenda within an institution
  • To build meaningful demand amongst key stakeholders (most often Board of Directors) for transformational innovation
  • To troubleshoot key strategy and organizational challenges while implementing innovation portfolios

Our methodology is a framework for creating Next Practice Labs and for running demonstration projects that will result in scaleable new business models. Applying this framework through sponsored projects within institutions and engaging in membership are not mutually exclusive, and my favorite partnerships are those that use the cross-ruff from membership to project to membership to ensure that leaders are able to maximize returns and benefits of their innovation portfolios and projects.

This is the big work; but like I said, first we need to start small. And a Membership provides the first small step towards shifting the conversation about what is safe, practical, and possible.

Think big, but start small. Join us in a Membership conversation today.


Co-Creating an Advocacy and Innovation Platform with the Kauffman Foundation

Our Citizen Experience Lab is pleased to announce that it will once again be partnering with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, to work with a group of stakeholders to co-create a shared platform for advocacy around innovation and entrepreneurship in the state.

Together with the Kauffman Foundation, BioSTL, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and MOSourceLink, will form a statewide community of advocates who seek to enhance the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship across Missouri as well as elevate state support for these activities.

The goal of the of which is to build a sustainable advocacy platform that Missouri’s innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem will want to rally around so that innovators and entrepreneurs in all parts of the state, from rural to urban contexts, receive the support they need to bring their ideas to life. Like many states across the country, Missouri has dedicated time and resources to spearhead efforts in innovation and entrepreneurship, yet has faced key challenges in the process that BIF and the Kauffman Foundation partners are seeking to solve.

As the first step in this process, BIF’s Citizen’s Experience Lab will facilitate a one-day design studio slated to take place in late October in Kansas City, MO,  to create defined mechanisms and outcomes that enhance the community’s collective capacity to effectively advocate about the value of innovation and entrepreneurship in Missouri, during which participants identify key metrics that define the impact of innovation and entrepreneurship in the state, design persuasive messages for use in advocacy, and set both short and long-term goals for advocacy achievements.

Mr. Kauffman, founder of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, believed it was a fundamental right for anyone who had a big idea to be able to bring it to life. In preserving his legacy, the Kauffman Foundation focuses on empowering entrepreneurs and breaking down barriers that stand in the way of starting and growing their businesses.

BIF has partnered with the Kauffman Foundation in the past to contribute to their efforts to build entrepreneurial ecosystems, including facilitating the design process for creating a strategic roadmap for Kauffman’s Startup Champion Network, as well as a new education platform for its 1 Million Cups initiative.

BIF’s Citizen Experience Lab is honored to support this initiative and facilitate its design process.


BIF Announces With GoLocal Live: #BIF2017 Summit Storyteller Series

The Business Innovation Factory (BIF), in collaboration with GoLocal, announces a media partnership for #BIF2017, BIF’s Annual Collaborative Innovation Summit held in Providence, RI this September 13-14 at Trinity Repertory Company, including a six week #BIF2017 Summit Storyteller Series on GoLocal Live featuring interviews with inspiring #BIF2017 storytellers leading up to GoLocal broadcasting live, for the first time ever, from #BIF2017 at Trinity Rep Theatre on September 13-14, 2017.  

BIF and GoLocalLive will debut the six-week #BIF2017 Summit Storyteller Series starting this Friday, August 4, 2017, leading off with the co-founder of Fast Company, Alan Webber. Now in its’ 13th year, #BIF2017, like previous summits before it, has attracted high-profile storytellers from across the country, including this year Walt Mossberg, veteran tech journalist from the Wall Street Journal; Carmen Medina, former Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA , and Richard Saul Wurman, design icon and creator of the TED Conference.

“We’re thrilled to have GoLocal as a #BIF2017 Media Partner and to debut the #BIF2017 Summit Storyteller Series on GoLocal Live this week” Saul Kaplan,  Founder and Chief Catalyst of BIF explains. “The BIF Summit enables 500+ innovation junkies from around the world, and many more connected online, to learn from inspiring storytellers who share genuine stories about their personal transformation journey. #BIF2017 enables participants to engage in stories of transformation, connecting with each other to accelerate our own transformation journeys and to make a difference in the world.  At BIF, we believe that in order to transform our most vital community systems in education, healthcare, and government, we need to make our self-organized networks more purposeful .”

At #BIF2017 on September 13-14 GoLocal will simultaneously live stream the entire Summit, all 32 stories over 2 days, as well as featuring GoLocal Live interviews during the summit intermissions and breaks. “We’ve been broadcasting with Saul for a series we’ve dubbed Mr. Innovation, airing every Monday afternoon, so the partnership with BIF seemed like a natural fit. We’re excited to try something new and bring the greater stories of transformation to our incredible viewers,” Josh Fenton, CEO, and co-founder of GoLocal explains.

Why attend? #BIF2017 experience is designed for inspired learning. It takes place in a theater, not a hotel or conference center. There’s only one track, so everyone shares a common experience. Attendees expand their networks with both storytellers and attendees during our long breaks, meals, and reception with over 80 percent of attendees being thought leaders, CEOs, Presidents, or Senior Leaders in their field. Tickets for #BIF2017 are on sale now.  Register today and be ready to leave feeling inspired.

Our Health Imperative: A Methodology to Get From ‘Now’ to ‘Next’

Our health system has the ability to accelerate society’s path to what’s ‘next’ — a next that holds the promise of focusing on health rather than health care or, better yet, sick care.

What’s getting in the way?

The system is locked in its ‘mental valley’ of the now chasing incremental change in hopes that it will ‘fix’ what has been broken for decades.

Transformation itself needs to be embraced and practiced as a core leadership skill because we are all frustrated in the now, and transformation is the constant that will move institutions and organizations to the ‘next’.

Which is why I am excited to share BIF’s methodology for making the transformation journey safer and easier for health leaders.

We know it’s a natural tendency for institutions and organizations in the health space to focus on existing practices and models that have had past success rather than investing in responding to changes in the market with new capabilities. That’s understandable because it feels safe and manageable; the truth is, that yields only small ‘tweaks’ of change.

But a growing number of health leaders have told us that their current approach to change isn’t working; incremental inertia and mindset are keeping them stuck on a ‘healthcare-hamster wheel’.

This is why it is our priority in the BIF Patient Experience Lab (PXL) to provide a methodology that makes transformational work less risky, more manageable, and, well, safer.

BIF’s PXL is a platform where health leaders define and test vital next practices and new business that offer different health models to our population that extend beyond clinical walls to where we live, work, play and all of the virtual spaces in between.

Our BIF methodology offers a clear path for how an organization can make transformational change by starting with the essential first step of shifting its lens to reframe opportunities through the experience of individuals and families.


BIF's Design Methodology

Seeing Beyond the Boundaries of “What Is” to “What Could Be”

The process begins by helping leaders shift their current lens to understand the gaps that their customers currently face, or, in other words, the job that they need to be done. By engaging patients, families and organizational leaders in thoughtful and provocative conversations, an empathetic reframe of the customer experience happens and new opportunities for adding value emerge.

Some new value propositions we have been exploring with leaders in our PXL include ‘how might we’…

…get back to extraordinary basics of health and wellness.Download Your Copy Now!

…recognize that most of what impacts our health happens outside clinical walls.

…extend health beyond clinical walls to where we live, work, play, and all virtual spaces in between.

…acknowledge the medical model as only one piece of the health journey

…respond to the effects of social, economic and environmental factors on health

…take advantage of intersections across medical, social and economic aspects of a person’s health so, new solutions emerge by thinking about them together instead of each in their own “lane”.

…act as a health ecosystem.

…secure real capital– financial, political, and social to be invested in ways that explore and nurture new ways of working; it’s bigger than funded programs, pilots, or studies.

…invest time and money to establish and foster authentic relationships across health driven sectors

…establish mutually accountable partnerships in and out of healthcare industry that goes ‘beyond handshakes’

…implement new ways to understand, measure and communicate the value of ‘health’ beyond biological measures

…include evidence for agency; how it can underpin health and why it matters of its own accord.

…show that organizations with transformation as a key driver of their strategy will succeed and lead.

…stop ‘thinking and talking’ and start ‘designing and trying’ next practices and new models

Once new value propositions are defined, we work with leaders to combine, recombine or reimagine new capabilities to prototype and test. Prototyping capabilities enable organizations to learn quickly if they have added value for individuals, families and key stakeholders and creates the conditions to capture both successes and failures or make real-time adjustments in the moment.

When a minimally viable set of new capabilities has been prototyped and tested for value, with real people in their real world, we help organizations create a path to commercialize them.

At its core, BIF’s methodology embeds ongoing risk mitigation to decrease time spent on undesirable and ineffective new capabilities and increase time spent on developing sustainable new organizational capabilities to serve as next practices for new business models; getting us on a path to what’s ‘next’ for health.

What Next Looks Like

Creating the ‘next’ in health has never been easy, in fact, it has only gotten harder over time.

With highly regulated environments, increasing system and operational complexity, disruptive competing stakeholders, and a hefty responsibility to do no harm, transforming next practices and new business models that can cure, heal or help is hard.

But it’s happening- with institutional leaders in our Patient Experience Lab and across the globe.

Notable points of lights are emerging from the United States, Netherlands and Canada, moving from the now to the next by enlisting a full gamut of cross-sector, cross-industry ‘unusual suspects’ to change the game.

Above all, it is dynamic and what is ‘next’ today will change in one, three and five years from now.

‘Next’ will continue to evolve and be undefined, yet ready to be shaped by institutional and organizational leaders who know how vital it is to stay nimble with heightened awareness aware of what ‘next’ will be.

The goal is to ensure that transformation is a skill and muscle flexed regularly by leaders — in order to stay relevant to our changing health needs.

What ‘Next’ Now?

Because the low hanging fruit is gone we have incrementally changed or are in the process of incrementally changing all of existing technical problems in our health system — leaving us with complex, human-centered challenges that require new mindsets and capabilities beyond the status quo.

These challenges are rooted in the need to meet our population at the complex intersections of their medical, economic and social needs — which as a direct result, render most of the existing practices and models no longer viable, valuable, or sustainable for institutions, consumers or the bottom line, no matter how much we keep ‘tweaking’ them.

We’ve run out of band-aids and the Frankenstein monster we built is on the loose and scaring society.

It’s time to help get institutional leaders off of the whiteboard and into the real world, to move from ‘thinking and talking’ to ‘trying and learning’ our way to the ‘next.’

Our Health Imperative: Leading the Transformational Change

The conditions are ripe for transformational change that is intentional, safe and repeatable, adding new value for the health of our population.

It’s going to take cross-sector, cross-industry superpowers coming together to truly transform health and wellness models for our population because the ‘next’ is still out there undefined.

We share our BIF Methodology today to describe how we help institutional leaders explore and test what’s ‘next’. We also share it because, at BIF, we believe that social system transformation becomes possible when we all open source our approaches, platforms, and experience.

That’s how we get better and faster together.

This is not only our internal process for how we work but also what we believe will make the titanic shifts needed to move the entire health industry forward into next practices and new business models that transform society’s future health and wellness models.

We know we are still early in our journey, so at BIF, we will continue to partner with health leaders to move from the now to the next, leading transformational change together as an ecosystem of health, not a silo of healthcare.

BIF's Design Methodology

Whether you have just started your journey to transform the path to health and wellness or have been on it for a while, we want to learn with you:

·       What are you trying as your ‘next’?

·       What advice do you have for others wanting to go from chasing incremental change to leading transformational change?

I’ll pause there and look to you all to fuel this urgent conversation.


Introducing BIF’s Design Methodology for Next Practices and New Business Models

A successful business model is like a shark that has to keep moving to stay alive. But how do you make sure you’re not stuck in a crowded swim lane with declining margins, swimming upstream against disruptive currents, or even worse, find your organization dead in the water? A growing number of institutional leaders tell us that their current approach to innovation isn’t working. Inertia and culture are getting in the way of what’s next. The job-to-be-done for institutional leaders is to explore, test, and commercialize next practices and new business models. R&D for new business models is the new strategic imperative.

A next practice is a new and improved version of a capability or group of capabilities. It has the potential to transform customer experience promising a better way to deliver value. A market-tested next practice can either be integrated into today’s business model or be leveraged independently to enable entirely new business models. Since its inception twelve years ago, Business Innovation Factory (BIF) has been developing and integrating the next practices of human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and storytelling/engagement into all of our client project work. These lynchpin capabilities now enable us to deliver on our value proposition: BIF helps institutional leaders make transformation safer and easier to manage.

I am beyond proud today, on behalf of our entire BIF team, to introduce:


BIF’s Design Methodology includes detailed inputs, key activities, and outputs for each of the four phases of the process.

It is the result of a 12-year labor of love. Here are ten things our team has learned along the way:

    1. You can’t analyze your way to transformation; it’s a generative act.
    2. Transformation requires a different approach than incremental change.
    3. Leadership in the 21st century requires more focus and new approaches to explore and test what’s next.
    4. Institutions have the capabilities to accelerate society’s path to what’s next, but they’re locked in the straightjacket of what’s now.
    5. Emerging technologies are an exciting and important enabler, but without the human side of innovation, transformation isn’t possible.
    6. Transformation starts when you ‘Shift” your lens to see opportunities from the perspective of customer experience and jobs-to-be-done.
    7. Customer experience provides the best foundation for the ‘Conceptual Design’ of a next practice or new business model.
    8. The only way to know if a design concept will survive customer contact is to ‘Prototype and Test’ it in the real world.
    9. To successfully ‘Commercialize’ next practices and new business models, start with a market-tested Minimum Viable Business Model.
    10. BIF’s Design Methodology helps make transformation safer and easier to manage.

Everyone on Team BIF has contributed to our Design Methodology in countless ways over the years. We wouldn’t be able to share it today without each team member’s amazing effort and without collectively living our BIF value of collaborative innovation. Innovation is a team sport. Special thanks to BIF Experience Designers Crystal June Rome and Kay Zagrodny, who did the hard project work. They immersed themselves into herding passionate inno-cats at BIF, spent countless hours listening to me drone on about the underlying idea, and stayed true to their most recent project experience. Crystal and Kay had just wrapped up an amazing project, working with BIF’s Chief Market Maker, Elizabeth MacLaren. They worked with the Population Health team at Children’s Health in Dallas, prototyping and testing a transformational next practice centered on family well-being. The next practice we helped them develop was then stitched together with the capabilities to deliver an insurance product. A brand new business model is being launched by Children’s Health now in Dallas. Imagine that, a hospital commercializing a new business model that is on the hook to economically improve family well-being. Team BIF rocks!

“At BIF, we believe that social system transformation becomes possible when we all open source our new approaches, platforms, and tools. That’s how we get better faster together.”

We have also benefited enormously from a growing and engaged community of innovation junkies from around the world who inspire us and help us to get better faster every day. At BIF we believe in enabling random collisions of unusual suspects or making a RCUS! It’s key to finding opportunities between our silos, disciplines, and sectors. I’m grateful for a random collision with XPLANE Co-Founder Dave Gray, and their crazy cool and talented team. XPlane’s superpower is using visualization to help teams align around a shared purpose and story. We leaned heavily on XPlane’s superpower to create this visualization of our BIF Design Methodology, and it won’t be the last time we collaborate.

We share our BIF Design Methodology today to more clearly describe how we help institutional leaders explore and test what’s next. We also share it because, at BIF, we believe that social system transformation becomes possible when we all open source our new approaches, platforms, and tools. That’s how we get better faster together. The 12-month process depicted in BIF’s Design Methodology is intended as a guideline. We always customize it to meet the specific needs and requirements of each client project.

We live in a time that screams for transformation yet too many institutions are only capable of tweaks. We developed BIF’s Design Methodology because a growing number of institutional leaders know they need a better approach to innovation. Together, we can make transformation safer and easier to manage.

Saul Kaplan
@TheBIF Founder & Chief Catalyst.
Author, The Business Model Innovation Factory

Inc Calls BIF2016 One Of The ‘Most Innovative Conferences of 2016’

A good story can change the world, we say. That’s why we produce the BIF Summit every year.

A good story can change business as well, says Inc magazine.

Inc writer Michael Schein included the BIF2016 Summit on the magazine’s list of the 10 Most Innovative Conferences of 2016 —conferences “where business leaders turned for unparalleled access, inside scoops and pure innovation.”

Schein wrote:

“The BIF Summit adds a twist to traditional storytelling. Thirty-two heavy-hitters from myriad industries gather each year to share 15-minute stories about personal growth, overcoming hardships, and laying the groundwork for future opportunities.

“This self-proclaimed community of “innovation junkies” provides a space to make connections, tap into unrealized potential, and build meaningful relationships through a shared sense of struggle.”

We couldn’t agree more. See for yourself — you can watch the videos from all the BIF2016 storytellers here.

Join BIF

The BIF Summit ‘Unlocks The Doors Of Possibility’ – Dara Goldberg

Guest post by Dara Goldberg

During September 14-16 — in just two weeks  more than 500 people from all sectors, countless industries, and myriad locales worldwide will descend upon the beautiful Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island, to experience the Business Innovation Factory’s BIF2016 Summit. You should be there too — and here’s why.

The BIF Summit is your physical and mental door into the unknown and the unexpected. The BIF Summit is a place where we can discuss and consider wildly exciting notions — that anything is possible when it comes to rethinking and rebuilding business models, that we can build and rebuild social systems that will serve everyone, everywhere, the whole world over — in a profoundly better way.

The BIF Summit is a safe, welcoming space where ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ are forbidden, where egos, titles, fame and fortune, hierarchy and competition are checked at the door, and where ‘not knowing’ is a welcomed frame of mind.

The BIF Summit is your ticket to a braintrust of individuals who are not afraid to think out loud, to question, to challenge, to share, to agree and disagree, to care about one another, and to interact with everyone on an entirely level playing field.

Enter the BIF Summit, and you enter a world filled with ideas, practices, and manners of thinking — about your work, yourself, your community, and the world — that you would never have considered or even thought possible.

The BIF Summit is the key that unlocks the doors of possibility,  unleashing that wondrous, daring, creative part of your own brain. You know, that part of your brain that rarely gets its due, and is not confined by boxes, expectations, and rules. That sacred place in your brain that knows no self-doubt, fear of judgment, preconceived notions, or outmoded assumptions.  The part where curiosity, wonder, a ‘we’ mentality, flexibility, and optimism naturally occur, where questions are more valued than answers, where ambiguity, perplexity, and non-linear thinking are celebrated.

Over the course of those two days, your brain — and your heart and soul — will be nourished, re-energized, challenged, and moved, perhaps even to tears, by stories. The BIF Summit’s storytellers are ready and willing to be vulnerable with you. They’ll share their bold, edgy ideas and experiences, their successes and failures, and their sometimes grand, sometimes more modest perspectives on how we can think, act, work, and live in different and markedly more meaningful and impactful ways.

The BIF Summit storytellers will push you to the edge of your thinking and help you find comfort there. But equally provocative and fulfilling are the stories you share with the people you meet throughout the two days. In the interactions BIF refers to as ‘Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects’, you’ll find yourself conceiving, sharing,  and learning about new ideas and ways of thinking. You’ll collectively bring new ways of thinking to life.

Toward the end of the two days, as people start to realize that their incredible Summit experience is coming to a close, the energy in the room is, surprisingly, far from somber and low. Rather, the atmosphere continues to build in a powerfully positive way, as everyone gets even more excited and emboldened to take all that they have gained from and contributed to the BIF Summit home with them, and help spur the change they now know is possible.

I truly hope to see you there.

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

Wanda McClure on the BIF Summit: Thinking Beyond The School Silos

The BIF Summit is designed to allow attendees to break free from their silos. There are storytellers and stories, not speakers and presentations. There are no pre-set theme s or topics. Within this environment, attendees can boundlessly explore new ways to make themselves, their businesses, and our world a better place.

No matter your title, no matter your line of business, everyone who attends the BIF Summit benefits. Take Wanda McClure, for example. A longtime educator, Wanda is a School Designer and Professional Development Specialist for EL Education, formerly Expeditionary Learning, in the Atlantic region. She’s been to the BIF Summit for a few years running.

I asked Wanda to tell us, through the lens of an educator, why go to the BIF Summit?

Wanda’s answer: Educational leadership can become stagnant. The BIF Summit inspires me to think differently and ask questions like, How does innovation and strategy play into K-12? What do students need to be successful? How can we engage school leaders to participate in innovation? What part does strategy and innovation play in transformative, disruptive change?

In my experience, most schools and school districts make incremental changes, rather than disruptive or transformative change. The BIF Summit expands my thinking and inspires me as I work with leaders in education to help them understand how change happens, how we must move from incremental to more disruptive and progressive changes. The BIF Summit reminds me that we need to be intentional disruptive as we work toward change in education in order to allow teachers and students to truly become changemakers who create a better world.

Every storyteller comes to the BIF Summit with a unique story. So does everyone who attends. Yet in those diverse, random collisions of people and stories, we all share a commonality of humanity.

I love being a part of the RCUS team where those collisions of thought happen. Participating in that commonality reminds me how we are humans ‘being’ on a journey through life. I’m prompted to reflect on the big questions: How am I using my voice as a force for good? How can I apply the collective wisdom of these innovators to my task as a human being?

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

Matt Murrie on The BIF Summit: The Element of Surprise

The BIF Summit is designed to allow attendees to break free from their silos. There are storytellers and stories, not speakers and presentations. There is no pre-set theme or topics. Within this environment, attendees can boundlessly explore new ways to make themselves, their businesses, and our world a better place.

As Co-Founder and Chief Curiosity Curator of What If…? Matt Murrie is a guy who asks a lot of questions.

Matt has been to the BIF Summit before, and he’ll be at #BIF2016, September 14-15. I spoke with Matt to ask the question ‘Why go to the BIF Summit?’

Matt’s short answer: People. To go a little deeper, the unique collections of people in one place. The BIF Summit gives me access to those people. At the Summit, I have time to spend with this unique collection of people, sharing stories and ideas. Everyone is at the BIF Summit for a reason and everyone has a purpose. But there’s also an incredible element of surprise over the course of those two days.

I am mind-blown each year when I look at the attendee list before heading off to the BIF Summit. I always like to be the dumbest person in the room — I learn more that way. The BIF Summit gives me that opportunity.

Bringing “Hip-Hope” To Underserved Communities

Roberto Rivera’s personal story is about the expansion of true consciousness in one young person, who was tagged early on as learning-disabled, then shunted from one alternative school to another. He got into trouble, and almost slid into an abyss of statistics that presumed his ultimate disconnection from family and community — from the “good life.”

Now, he says he is learning about love.  How to love other people, how to love himself.

A turning point for Rivera was the death of his grandfather, who saw young Roberto in his wholeness, simmering and on the brink of something. “He didn’t just see the talent and passion in me,” Rivera says of his grandfather, “He saw my pain.”

Rivera is the president and lead change agent of The Good Life Organization (GLO), a social enterprise that catches young people who slip through the cracks of our educational and social systems.  He catches them with hip-hop, storytelling, videography, and personal connection. He does it because he stepped out of the cracks himself in a journey that took him from “dope dealer to hope dealer.”

That’s how Rivera sees students in GLO’s afterschool Fulfill the Dream workshops, a series of encounters that draw out the genius of young people who are considered “at-risk”, but who have the impulse to give and create. Seeing the beauty beneath a rough exterior is what Rivera calls “Michelangelo vision” —the ability to look beyond like his grandfather could.

“He was my Michelangelo,” Rivera says. His grandfather was the son of immigrants. He went to college against the odds, sent money home to his siblings, and led an altruistic life grounded in the community. His death took Rivera off the “track to distraction,” the path that seeks a pleasure-centered life, filled with fleeting feel-good moments that leave an emptiness in their wake.

Ten years ago, Rivera started GLO as a service born out of love, he says. He works in underserved communities, mostly with young people of color who struggle as he did. “All that work is bursting out of the heart of a big brother who is trying to love these kids,” he says. “I want them to be great, to be walking in their dreams.”

As he pursues a Ph.D. in educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rivera applies empirical evidence to what he already knows through experience: “Education can have the most profound impact on people’s lives.” But he is careful not to fall for clichéd strategies aimed at pulling kids from one side of the achievement gap to the other.

He notes that standard educational goals can produce high-achievers who go to Ivy League schools, earn their MBAs, join blue-chip corporations, and devise brilliant financial schemes that build immense wealth for the few on Wall Street, and chaos for everyone else.

It’s not enough to be smart, self-satisfied, and successful, Rivera says. “We want all kids on both sides of the gap to have a moral compass, to think critically, and to make the institutions that they’re a part of and the communities that they serve to be more just and more humane.”

At GLO, he reminds young people of their heritage in hip-hop, the most innovative cultural movement of this age. He tells them about the Jamaican-born, Bronx-raised DJ Kool Herc, who transformed the turntable into an instrument, got everyone break-dancing, and brought hip-hop into being. Kool Herc opened a space for joy and expression and thus transformed a culture. And he started out just like them.

“This is their history, and it’s important that they know it and claim it, and build off that foundation,” Rivera says. “If our kids today can recapture that narrative, realize their link in the chain of tradition, it’s not so farfetched that they might have the idea for the new Facebook.”

Rivera helps young people find their “inner GPS” and turn it up so that the reality of love dominates all others. “There’s a real clash of realities happening right now,” he says. “The one that will win is the one that people embody and live.”

BIF Summit Scholarships Are Now Available!

Every year BIF awards a limited number of both complimentary tickets and discounted tickets to our summit to students and community members who are unable to pay our full registration. To be considered for one of these tickets we ask that you fill out the application form and tell us why you belong at BIF2016!

We’re excited to announce Cale Birk as this years first Community Scholarship recipient! We asked Cale why he’s excited to attend BIF2016 and his response was nothing short of inspirational.

Cale writes: As a high school Principal, I had been trying to develop a model for a ‘demonstration school’ where teachers would be encouraged to take pedagogical ‘risks’: working together to design and implement new approaches in their classrooms that were potentially very different than traditional methods.  

However, I wasn’t getting a great deal of traction on my idea. It was at that point that I happened across Saul Kaplan’s book, The Business Model Innovation Factory. I read the book in a weekend, and the idea of ‘the adjacent possible’ made so much sense, especially considering the model that I had been playing with. And after doing a little digging, I discovered that the Business Innovation Factory put on an annual summit, and that was it, I needed to go to BIF! I knew that I had to try to find some way to get to BIF 2016.  

Cale will be making his way to the Summit all the way from British Columbia, Canada and says he’s looking forward to seeing everyone at BIF2016!

 Applications are reviewed on a first come first serve basis. Tickets are limited. Click on the link below for more details.



Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

PXL Shares Family Well-Being Experimentation Stories

Patient Experience Lab partnered with Children’s Health and Dallas families and communities to prototype, test, and iterate on two new approaches to improving family well-being.

These experiments were intended to help us learn: how can we begin to understand the conditions that encourage positive behavior change, and improve well-being for the whole family?

We are excited to present video stories that highlight families’ experiences with each, as well as key elements of the family-centered designs:

1. What’s Cookin’ Dallas

A healthy cooking and eating experience in the Lake Highlands community, co-created and run by families. Multiple iterations of the model allowed families to continually address their community’s needs: transportation to increase access to healthy foods, tangible, affordable, and relevant nutrition information, and cooking experiences created and facilitated by trusted community members.

2. Your Best You

A three-week youth leadership program to facilitate creative expression and reflection, enable self-awareness, and harness change-making power. A curricular fusion of design thinking and Roberto Rivera’s Fullfill the Dream, a creative pathway to self-discovery, provided teens with tools to identify and apply their personal skills and superpowers to address challenges – both those they face as individuals, and those their communities confront.

One of the many important insights gleaned from experimenting alongside Children’s Health and local families is that enabling agency (putting families in charge of well-being initiatives and catalyzing purposeful networks among them) is crucial to ensuring that families can continually strive to live healthy and well lives. To move from a model that provides sick care to a model that keeps populations healthy, we need to reframe the roles that families and institutions play.

Partner, don’t prescribe.

By engaging families in the design and delivery of models, we’ve learned that families know the challenges they face in striving to be well and what the needs of their communities are. Giving families access to the institutional resources to address those needs creates the conditions in which hope can grow: specifically, the hope that self-directed changes will pave the road to healthier futures.

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Four Healthcare Storytellers to Watch at the #BIF2015 Summit

Basit Chaudhry, MD

As a medical student, Dr. Basit Chaudhry became certain that before a better, more humane healthcare system could be built, a technological problem needed to be solved: a way for healthcare providers to discover and deal with all the information required to provide optimal care. Dr. Chaudhry went on to get his Ph.D. in health services research and informatics and later became a medical technologist at IBM. Most recently, Dr. Chaudhry founded Tuple Health, which offers technology and services to medical providers, payers, and purchasers. Tuple is a step toward solving the problem of organizing what we know about medicine and making it freely available to those people who need it. Technology alone can’t solve the problems in healthcare, but Dr. Chaudhry believes that technological innovation can help us develop a system focused more on wellness than treating illness.

Sophie Houser

The summer before their senior year of high school, Sophie Houser and Andy Gonzales created the video game Tampon Run as their final project for a coding summer intensive with Girls Who Code, an organization trying to close the gender gap in technology and encourage girls to discover the creativity and power of coding. Tampon Run, a simple game that uses humor and satire to combat the societal taboo around menstruation, went viral when Houser shared it with friends on a simple website in September 2014. Houser and Gonzales have been written up all over the world, given a TEDx talk, won a Webby People’s Voice award, and a Tribeca Disruptive Innovators Award. Sophie, a native New Yorker, graduated from Bard High School Early College last spring and has just started her freshman year at Brown University. 

Stephen Keating

Steven Keating is a doctoral candidate at the MIT Media Lab who is developing novel platforms for 3D printing, synthetic biological fabrication, and designed growth of the next generation of products. Curiosity drives his research and also saved his life through the accidental discovery of a baseball-sized, cancerous brain tumor found in a voluntary academic scan. In recent months, Keating has become a vocal advocate for an open-access health system that gives patients the right to see and share their own medical information with providers, supporters, and researchers. “It’s the power of knowing what’s happening to you,” he says.“ We have Google Maps to help us get to the grocery store, but for cancer, there’s no direction. We follow whatever our doctors tell us.”

Michael Samuelson

Michael Samuelson is an author and an expert on leadership, health and wellness, patient experience, health policy, and disease prevention. Practicing what he preaches, he is an avid world trekker who has logged high-altitude mountain adventures in Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, and the US — all after the age of 50, and after being diagnosed with cancer. Health is not an end in itself, he says, but merely a vehicle for what brings meaning to our lives. Similarly, staying healthy can never be about metrics for weight, blood pressure, or cholesterol. Such abstract indicators fail to provide the answer to a simple question: How are we doing in life, really?

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

The BIF Summit: ‘Weaving The Tapestry Of A Shared Experience’

Here at BIF, we can hardly wait for September, when the annual BIF Collaborative Summit happens — and if we, who put on the Summit every year, are excited about it, imagine how excited the Summit-goers are! We’ve asked some past participants, and a few first-time attendees, to describe this excitement. Up now: Shelley Paul, Head of Trans-Disciplinary Learning at the Atlanta International School.

We asked Shelley one question: What is it about the BIF Summit that excites you the most? Here’s her answer:

The stories! Story is at the heart of humanity, no matter where you’re from or what your experience is. BIF Summit stories are not about ideas, but about a journey and an experience the storyteller had, with transformation woven into the story.

After 32 storytellers, you’re saturated, in a really good way. But by the end, you also start to make a narrative arc of the whole event. That narrative arc is woven into the tapestry of your experience, and everyone else’s too, to create the collective, shared experience. Even when you’re not a speaker, you feel utterly essential to the experience. You and everyone else are where you are meant to be, to create the shared experience that is meant to be.

And it’s a shared experience from the minute you get there, until long after you leave, because you carry it back with you. I still think of Irwin Kula and Dorie Clark and Camille Beatty from BIF10.

I’m blown away by way lack of hierarchy is designed into the BIF Summit. You don’t feel funny talking to the storytellers. You can tell them how they affected you, and you can tell they’re glad to hear it. You feel like you’re as big a part of the Summit as the storytellers are.

I’m not going back to the BIF Summit, I’m coming home to the BIF Summit, returning to the place where all these amazing sparks and inspirations and stories happen.


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The BIF Summit: ‘Random Collisions That Celebrate The Commonality Of Humanity’

The Summit prompts me to reflect on the big questions: How can I apply the collective wisdom of these innovators to my task as a human being?

Here at BIF, we can hardly wait for September, when the annual BIF Collaborative Summit happens — and if we, who put on the Summit every year, are excited about it, imagine how excited the Summit-goers are! We’ve asked some past participants, and a few first-time attendees, to describe this excitement.  Up now: Wanda McClure, a school designer and professional development specialist at Expeditionary Learning, K-12 education nonprofit.

We asked Wanda one question: What is it about the BIF Summit that excites you the most? Here’s her answer:

Hearing the stories of people from all walks of life. Every storyteller comes to the BIF Summit with a unique story. Yet in those diverse, random collisions of stories, there’s a commonality of humanity that relates to my journey as a human “being” and prompts me to reflect on the big questions: How am I using my voice as a force for good? How can I apply the collective wisdom of these innovators to my task as a human being?

I love the random collisions of unusual suspects, interweaved with the commonality of humanity. Where else would you have Richard Saul Wurman, Irwin Kula, Daniel Pink, and Camille Beatty? You’d never get that lineup at a regular conference.

And that’s precisely the point of the BIF Summit: there are random collisions. There are networking opportunities, and stories and conversations about topics specific to growing a business and making deals and the things that you’d do at normal conferences.

But it’s also an intensely personal experience, shared by all the unusual suspects, that celebrates the best thoughts of humanity on bettering the world.

Four Education Storytellers to Watch at the 2015 BIF Summit

A selection of who to watch in and around education during the BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit.

Larry Rosenstock

Few schools have gained as much attention as Larry Rosenstock’s High Tech High, recently featured in the documentary Most Likely to Succeed.  With the support of the Gates Foundation and other organizations, Larry has helped create a school that puts students at the center of their learning with a project-based curriculum.  At High Tech High, students are empowered to play roles as scientists, engineers, and designers.

With 20 years of teaching experience, Larry knows the challenges of innovating inside highly structured environments.  His work in education has set a precedent for experimentation and innovation within our education system.  Larry doesn’t want every school to be like High Tech High, he wants every school to experiment like High Tech High.     

Jaime Casap

As Chief Education Evangelist at Google, Jaime focus is bringing technology into classrooms and using the Internet as a tool educators can use to empower their students to be lifelong learners and problem-solvers.  

Raised in the crime-ridden, poverty-stricken NYC neighborhood Hell’s Kitchen, Jaime finished college,  beating the odds that a first-generation American would be able to do so.  Education is the ‘silver bullet’ for escaping poverty, he asserts, and no matter where students come from, in one generation they can use education to reach their dreams.  

Jaime has shared his passion for education and technology all over the world, including a recent White House speech, which can be found on his blog.

Chris Emdin

Chris Emdin’s art is his ability to create a deep connection with students.  Chris believes the “magic” of teaching —  the ability to perform and engage with students, can be learned by visiting the masters: barbers, hip-hop artists, and preachers.  

Chris brings equity into his classroom by asking students what they need without making assumptions and allowing them to offer feedback to critics of his teaching practices.

Chris is also a pioneer of hip-hop education, which reimagines and transforms education using the principles of hip-hop. You can find Chris on his tweetchat #hiphoped at 9 PM EST every Tuesday night.  

Carlos Moreno

Originally from the Bronx, Carlos has spent his time learning and teaching in Rhode Island.  Currently, Carlos is co-director of Big Picture Learning in New York.  

Carlos doesn’t want equality for all students and insists that we fight inequality in our schools with inequality.  Education systems that try to bring a one-size-fits-all model to education harm students more than they help, especially those already at risk.  Carlos suggests that the best way to prepare students for the future is by creating very different learning opportunities for them.  Carlos is setting an example by having his school assess the talents and interests of students, and create a learning program that is personalized to each student.  

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

#BIF2015 Summit: ‘I Want to Learn from the ‘Wow’ Moments’

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn how I can have greater impact on the human condition.” 

Here at BIF, we can hardly wait for September 16-17, when the annual BIF Collaborative Summit happens — and if we, who put on the Summit every year, are excited about it, imagine how excited the Summit-goers are! We’ve asked some past participants, and a few first-time attendees, to describe this excitement.  Up now: Dara Goldberg, who is a speaker and trainer, and also a writer who writes about leadership in the social and human age of business for publications such as Switch & Shift, the Huffington Post, and Forbes. 

We asked Dara one question: What is it about the BIF Summit that excites you the most? Here’s her answer:

I see the BIF Summit as an energy-­filled, refreshingly provocative event that brings together an extraordinary collection of people who are making our world a better place. I’m most excited to meet these amazing people and hear their stories. I especially want to connect with people who are committed to and actively helping to cultivate new generations of social leaders at all organizational levels, in all industries, all across the globe. I want to hear their insights, experiences, advice, and groundbreaking ideas. 

I’m looking forward to the opportunity to learn how I can have greater impact on the human condition. The Summit storytellers and attendees have such diverse vocations and avocations, as well as backgrounds, guiding beliefs, and life experiences. Some work with individuals, while others build, rebuild, and bring new life to communities, large organizational systems, or the world at large. I aim to learn from all the stories shared, onstage and off; the ideas that emerge from informal conversation; and the sparks flying from people’s ‘wow!’ moments. I want to learn new ways to be more effective in my efforts to help individuals, teams, and companies thrive. 



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#BIF2015 Summit ‘Jars Loose Cherished Assumptions’: Adam Hansen

BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit is a tremendous opportunity to blast through the innovation-impeding cognitive biases of availability bias, confirmation bias, status-quo bias, and unconscious framing

Here at BIF, we can hardly wait for September, when the annual BIF Collaborative Summit happens — and if we, who put on the Summit every year, are excited about it, imagine how excited the Summit-goers are! We’ve asked some past participants, and a few first-time attendees, to describe this excitement. Up now: Adam Hansen, who’s heard all about the Summit from colleagues who’ve attended and is “STOKED to attend The Summit”. Adam is Principal and VP of Innovation at Ideas To Go. 

We asked Adam one question: What is it about the BIF Summit that excites you the most? Here’s his answer:

Every now and then we’ll have the chance encounter, the serendipitous meeting that provokes breakthroughs in ways we hadn’t anticipated. Or we’ll hear the random off-the-cuff comment that cracks open a whole new area of thought for us. We cherish these precisely because of their infrequency and perceived stroke of luck for us. But it would be great to not to have to rely on being in the right place at precisely the right moment to get that kind of creative fuel.

The Summit is deliberate, not accidental. Planned, not random. We get the richness and diversity of perspective that we have formerly associated with luck and happenstance. The Summit is the right place, at the right moment, and we actually get to plan for it!

The distinct perspectives of the #BIF2015 Summit storytellers — poetry, mathematics, healthcare, online leaders — cannot help but jar loose our cherished assumptions, baked-in preconceptions, and limiting frames.

After all, creativity is combinatorial. Borrowing element Q from domain X and bringing it into home domain Y, then playing out the natural extension of that, is often enough to create something really interesting and valuable. We’re on the hunt for Uniqueness and Relevance, and it’s best to solve for Uniqueness first, then iterate to beef up the Relevance. Sounds complicated, but it looks like all you have to do to get this kind of transformative experience is to just listen to the storytellers and engage with the other attendees.

#BIF2015 attendee have a tremendous opportunity to blast through the innovation-impeding cognitive biases of availability bias, confirmation bias, status-quo bias, and unconscious framing. And if you want to talk about how innovation is affected by cognitive biases, please track me down at the Summit (and yes, it’s this easy to prepare for serendipity!).

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

Spreading the BIF Summit Excitement: Doug Williams

“You never know what BIF storytellers are going to talk about, and you can’t foresee how someone’s story will affect you.”

Here at BIF, we can hardly wait for September, when the annual BIF Collaborative Summit happens — and if we, who put on the Summit every year, are excited about it, imagine how excited the Summit-goers are! We’ve asked some past participants, and a few first-time attendees, to describe this excitement. Up now: Doug Williams, who has attended two previous BIF Summits. Doug is Director of Research at StratCommRX and Chief Research Officer at Innovation Excellence.

We asked Doug one question: What is it about the BIF Summit that excites you the most? Here’s his answer:

“I love the sense of anticipation I feel when stepping into the Trinity Theater. At other conferences, I find myself reading through the schedule, identifying the sessions I want to attend based on who the speaker is, where they are from, or the subject. But that doesn’t apply at BIF. Don’t get me wrong: the list of BIF storytellers is often peppered with plenty of bold-face names, as well as senior people from big-name brands. What’s different is that you never know what they are going to talk about, and you can’t foresee how someone’s story will affect you. There’s an element of surprise with every storyteller who takes the stage, and that makes BIF fun and engaging in a way that is different from any other conference I’ve attended.

“My first BIF Summit was shocking. I went into it completely blind, without expectations. By the first break on Day 1, I was overwhelmed by what I had seen and heard. Four people all had done something really cool in their lives, something significant, something that made a difference. Was I inspired? To be honest, the answer was no. I felt inadequate. What had I done that was worthy of sharing with the masses? Nothing that could compare with the four stories I had just heard.

“But over the course of the day, my attitude changed. And by the end of Day 2, I realized something. The reason I didn’t have a story to tell is because my story isn’t finished yet. And two years later, it’s still not finished. And that’s okay.

“I attended my second Summit last year, as part of the #RCUS crew. (That was my first clue that I had done something right in my rookie year.) I saw lots of familiar faces, shared hugs and smiles with friends I hadn’t seen since the prior year, sat in my same seat in the theater, and was similarly blown away by the stories I heard from the stage. My familiarity with the event did not overshadow the sense of anticipation I had for what was happening on the stage.

“What was different in my second year was that I started feeling anticipation before breaks, lunch, and cocktails. At BIF, people network  but what I’ve found is that they network for YOU, not for THEM. This is not a “what’s in it for me” crowd. This is an enabling crowd full of people who think about what you tell them and find ways to help, whether by offering a kind word, a quick brainstorming session, an introduction to someone else, or a deep conversation about What Really Matters.

“My third BIF Summit is less than two months away. That sense of anticipation that I love is starting to build. I’m looking forward to all the things I know will happen, and I can’t wait to find out the unknowns that will unfold before me.”

Dallas Families in the Driver’s Seat

“Fulfillment comes when we attach ourselves to activities, not outcomes.” – Michael Samuelson, BIF2015 storyteller

With just over a week of the experimentation phase under their belts, Team Family Well-Being has already fallen into a daily rhythm:

They rise early, meet participating families, and prep the site (which changes daily, hence the new wheels at left). They divide their day: collaborating with families to create the healthy cooking and eating experience, assess participation, and gather feedback. They make smoothies, salads, and pasta. They hone their chopping skills in the prep kitchen, thankfully with minimal casualties. They spend their evenings communicating with families and community partners, and integrating suggested changes into the next day’s plan. Sleep. Wake. Repeat.

As eventful as this daily schedule is, it barely scratches the surface of the first week’s story. In catching up with our team, I heard many anecdotes about families’ integral role in making the model work. 

Before kick-off, the team facilitated a workshop for families to identify their strengths, and to design team-based roles for the experimentation phase accordingly. Families self-selected onto five teams – Design, Marketing & Communication, Cultural Advisory, Curriculum Design, and Logistics & Planning – and they’ve been owning and running with those roles ever since: 

As part of the Design & Marketing teams’ first session, families renamed the model formerly known as Edu-Shoppe What’s Cookin’ Dallas (and, with support from our Digital Media Generalist, designed some snazzy new branding to match).

Parents suggested areas of higher foot traffic and invited friends to participate in the cooking demos. Even the kids got involved, supplementing the marketing strategy with makeshift signs advertising smoothies to passerbys (left). One mom on the Marketing & Communication team noted that the handouts could use some sprucing. After the team integrated her feedback and redesigned them, she nodded, “Now that’s more like it!” 

The Curriculum Design & Cultural Advisory Teams suggested that recipes be adapted to different dietary needs and taste profiles, so the team developed two new lists – “Family Suggestions” and “Healthy Ingredient Alternatives” – to pass out on-site. Checking out the new handouts, a mom exclaimed how useful it would be in adapting recipes for her daughter, who was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes. Another participant commented that these were changes she’d “always wanted to make, but wasn’t sure how.”

The impact of the model on the elements of family well-being is, in large part, still to be determined. But these stories? Strong evidence of the power of designing, iterating, and executing in partnership with our end-users.

How might relevant, engaging healthy cooking and eating experiences – designed by families, for families – impact the elements of family well-being? Stay tuned, because we’re about to find out.

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TD4Ed Overview: A Look Back

What do you get when you put 5 classroom teachers, 6 teaching artists, 3 youth development staff members, 3 graduate students, 1 coach, and 1 parent in BIF’s office space for a 2-day intensive “design jam”?  What if they all come with a problem they’re currently facing and want to tackle? During the last weekend in March, we found out.

Fueled by caffeine, collaboration, and adrenaline, these 19 dedicated educators worked in teams of 2-6 to tackle their chosen challenges, using our Teachers Design for Education (TD4Ed) curriculum. In the week leading up to the event, the teams conducted qualitative research to explore their issues and develop a deeper understanding of what they meant to various stakeholders. At the design jam, they reflected on what they had learned, generated and evaluated 60-70 new ideas to solve their challenge, built 3D prototypes of a new solution, tested out their concepts with a partner team, and plotted next steps to implement what they had created…all in just over 8 hours.

Sound intense? It was. But all five teams walked away with a tangible solution they were excited to test out and implement on their own turf, and it was an inspiring way to wrap up the work we’ve been doing on the TD4Ed project over the past six months.

As our current phase of work on TD4Ed draws to an end, we wanted to share some of the things we’ve done, how our thinking has evolved, and where we see TD4Ed going next. Beyond just what we’ve learned specifically about TD4Ed, we think the larger lessons we’ve learned about the fields of blended learning, professional development, and education innovation have broader applicability, especially for those who are playing in these spaces.

Want all the insights and details? Use the links at the bottom of this post as an index to jump to more in-depth information. Interested in just the highlights? Well, here’s the quick version:

Where We Started

In round one of work on TD4Ed (November 2013-June 2014), BIF’s Student Experience Lab (SXL) designed, tested, and launched a free, collaborative platform that teaches educators design thinking skills and empowers them to create, test, and implement solutions to challenges they face in their classrooms, schools, districts, and communities. Through a series of pilot programs in Rhode Island, Chicago, and Philadelphia, the SXL co-created this platform with teachers and with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Round two of our work, which we started in October 2014 and are now wrapping up, gave us a chance to strategize around how to partner with other organizations to get TD4Ed into the hands of more teachers, make it even more valuable to them, and create a sustainable model for TD4Ed going forward.

At the start of this second phase, we had in mind a variety of partnership types that could increase the impact of TD4Ed in different ways: integrating TD4Ed with a high profile crowdfunding site to attract new users and offer them funding for their solutions; offering blended in-person professional development trainings; rolling TD4Ed out across an entire school, network, or district; working with other organizations to create sponsored design challenges around specific problems; embedding TD4Ed into existing tech platforms that educators are already using; and/or offering micro credentials to teachers that complete the TD4Ed curriculum. Our goal was to figure out which combination of partnerships would be the right mix for TD4Ed, and make those partnerships happen.

What We’ve Been Doing & What We’ve Learned

We started by identifying who the major players were in each category and looking into the unique elements they brought to the table that could deliver value to our users. After getting an overview and deeper understanding of the potential strategic value of each partnership type, we began having conversations with representatives from the organizations that seemed most promising and experimented with what form these partnerships could take.

Through this process, our biggest and most generalizable learnings have included:

Learning #1: Experiences must be personalized.

Educators need choices, and it’s wise to accommodate a variety of levels of desired time investment and learning outcomes. With TD4Ed, we found that the full 6-8 week curriculum works great in a blended, facilitated model. But not all teachers have 6-8 weeks to commit to learning a new process. To give such teachers a chance to use aspects of design thinking in their practice, we played with a spectrum of engagement options. These ranged from bite-sized individual downloadable guides and activities to concentrated one-off workshops and the above-mentioned weekend-long design jam, and finally to more extensive blended professional development training.

        Learning #2: Engage teachers early in their career.

Working with individuals while they are training to become teachers is a particularly powerful time to make in a difference in their practice and mindsets, and ultimately in their students’ learning. Teachers-in-training are looking to add new skills to their teaching arsenal, and are more likely to have the time to try out resources. From the ways we’ve seen education students engage with design thinking and the TD4Ed platform, we recommend that others working in the education space think about how they might bring their tools to teachers-to-be.

Learning #3: Teacher-designed solutions — and the teachers behind them — are powerful.

This comes as no surprise, and we’ve seen it time and time again both in the initial round of work on TD4Ed and in everything we do in the SXL. But it bears repeating. In this phase of work we’ve seen over and over how educators take the solutions they’ve developed — and the design thinking process itself — and run with them.

We had been tossing around the idea of involving TD4Ed teacher “alumni” in our blended professional offerings for a while but got serious about it after an illuminating conversation with    Wendy Sauer, our Program Officer at BMGF. She thought incorporating teachers into our PD facilitation could be a great model for TD4Ed, and so we decided to experiment with what that could look like. At our design jam, we invited one of our pilot teams, a group of teachers from Warwick, Rhode Island, to join us to offer tips, share about their TD4Ed experience, and describe how their solution has grown and evolved over the past year. It was a powerful moment in which the new participants saw just how significant the effects of their solutions could be.

Learning #4: Professional development training and edtech platforms must deliver learning experiences that are relevant, interactive, and ongoing.

The BMGF recently put out a report on teachers’ views on professional development, describing how teachers believe that PD is effective when it involves “learning that is relevant, hands-on, and sustained over time.” This finding resonates deeply with what we’ve seen from TD4Ed. Whether learning is delivered via online or in-person methods, it must align with educators’ existing skills and capabilities, as well as the challenges they are currently facing, and provide ways for them to collaborate and learn actively. Much of the power of TD4Ed lies in how it enables teachers to take on challenges of their own choosing through an ongoing, hands-on process.

Learning #5: There’s a productive tension between integrating into what teachers are already doing, and offering them a completely unexpected experience.

There’s great value in incorporating learning opportunities for teachers into the things they’re already doing and the online and in-person spaces they already inhabit. Meeting educators (or any users, for that matter) where they are is critical to making new experiences valuable to them. At the same time, creating new and unexpected experiences can inspire creativity and open novel pathways for collaboration. In our design jam and workshops, we’ve taken teachers out of their everyday contexts, and as a result, have seen them develop new and enriching ideas and connections. Creating unexpected experiences is something that can be done in online spaces, too.

Where We’re Going Next

In the end (or at least for the time being…iteration is never complete!), most of our energy is going toward offering blended professional development training on TD4Ed. We’re also pursuing a few other complementary avenues, including delivering TD4Ed via existing edtech platforms (look for us on BloomBoard!), offering TD4Ed to teacher credentialing programs, using TD4Ed as a way to engage networks of teachers around larger challenges, and continuing to offer micro credentials to recognize educators who complete the curriculum. Crowdfunding and rolling TD4Ed out across a model school, network, or district fell out of the running for us as pathways to pursue for TD4Ed right now, but looking into these areas taught us useful lessons.

We still believe that storytelling can spread the impact of TD4Ed beyond individual teams, schools, and districts. As educators continue to use TD4Ed to tackle the challenges they face, we hope it becomes a free marketplace of ideas, where teachers, administrators, policymakers, and others can learn what effective, teacher-designed solutions look like.

Looking for all of the blog posts in this series? Use the links below:

Hot Off the Presses: Healthcare Narrative Playbook!

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Phillip Pullman

BIF PXL is so excited and proud to announce that our Healthcare Narrative Playbook is finally complete!

Check out the video story to learn more:

Special thanks to Rob Ranney for his beautiful video storytelling. 

The narrative playbook is a practical guide for patients, providers, and caregivers – it provides strategies for using narrative methods in healthcare, in ways that have real impact. The methods included have been vetted by our thought leaders, are backed by research, and can be used cost-effectively and time-efficiently.

Click through below to view the Playbook:

Sincere and heartfelt thanks to our participants and supporters, from all of us on the BIF PXL team! As is true of all great stories, the story of the Healthcare Narrative Playbook was a co-created one: informed by your knowledge of our healthcare system and inspired by your passion for the potential impact of narrative on health and outcomes.

So, an Arm Wrestler, a Professor, and a Ski Mountaineer Walk Into the BIF Summit

…as well as a poet, a food writer, the chef of a nonprofit food truck, a global security advisor, and a Google executive. The epic snow-melt is underway in Providence (yay!), and that means it’s the time of the year when we get serious about recruiting storytellers for the BIF Summit! We’ve made a significant start so far. Please welcome our first storytellers:

Rick Benjamin, a poet, essayist, and teacher, currently serves as poet laureate of Rhode Island. He teaches or has taught at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, the MFA Program in Interdisciplinary Arts at Goddard College, in many schools, and in community &assisted living centers. He also serves as a Fellow at New Urban Arts — an after-school arts mentoring program for Providence high school students. His poems and essays have been published in PRØOFWatershed, the Providence JournalTongue,, The Writer’s CircleAmerican Poets in the 21st Century: The New PoeticsUrthona: An International Buddhist Journal of the ArtsPoem, Home: An Anthology of Ars Poetica, and La Petite Zine.

Joshua Davis, co-founder of Epic magazine and contributing editor for Wired, loves an adventure, arm-wrestling, bullfighting, sumo, sauna, and backward running. His book Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, And The Battle For The American Dream, has been made into a movie that will be released this year. His documentary, “The Beast Within,” about his attempt to become the lightweight arm-wrestling champion of the world, won Best Documentary at the 2003 Telluride Mountain Film Festival.

Chris Emdin, an Associate Professor in the Mathematics, Science, and Technology department at Columbia University’s Teachers College, prepares teachers for STEM classrooms, conducts research in urban science education, and coordinates both the Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. and the #HipHopEd social media movement. The Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. are focused on bringing attention to transforming teaching, learning, and engagement in science by using hip-hop culture to create science competitions among youth in New York City public schools. The #HipHopEd movement focuses on engaging the public in conversations about the intersections of hip-hop and education.

Marc Goodman, global security adviser, and futurist, focuses on the disruptive impact of advancing technologies on security, business, and international affairs. Marc founded the Future Crimes Institute to inspire and educate others on the security and risk implications of newly emerging technologies. Marc also serves as the Global Security Advisor and Chair for Policy and Law at Silicon Valley’s Singularity University. His new book Future Crimes: Everyone Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About Itexposes the alarming ways criminals, corporations, and even countries are using new and emerging technologies against us. Marc received an MPA from Harvard University and an MS in Information Systems Management from the London School of Economics.

Simon Majumdar, food and travel writer, is best known for his frequent appearances on The Food Network and for his best-selling books, Eat My Globe and Eating for Britain. His recurring role as a judge on “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Iron Chef America,” and “The Next Iron Chef” has earned him the title of Food Network’s “toughest critic.” Simon’s latest book Fed, White and Blue documents his trek across the United States to find out what it really means to become an American, using what he knows best: food. Simon was a storyteller at BIF8; see a video of his talk here.

Andrew McLean, ski mountaineer, has been pursuing steep skiing challenges in remote locations for more than two decades. As a ski mountaineer, he climbs peaks before skiing down them, and his trips often involve spending weeks or months camped in cold, snowy locations.  A veteran of 20 expeditions and hundreds of first descents, Powder magazine voted McLean as “One of the Greatest Skiers of Our Time.”  He also designs mountain climbing equipment and uses many of his own inventions while skiing.  He is also the author of The Chuting Gallery – A Guide to Steep Skiing in the Wasatch Mountains, which was the first skiing guidebook devoted to steep-ski mountaineering.

Ivy Ross, head of Glass at GoogleX, works to answer two rather simple-sounding questions. Can technology be something that frees us up and keeps us in the moment, rather than taking us out of it? Can it help us look up and out at the world around us, and the people who share it with us? Previously, Ivy Ross was Chief Marketing Officer of, as well as EVP of Marketing for the Gap brand, and Creative Catalyst for all brands within Gap, Inc. Ivy also has held senior creative and product design positions at Disney Stores North America, Mattel, Calvin Klein, Coach, Liz Claiborne, Swatch Watch, and Avon. She was one of nine executives selected by Fast Company to represent the new face of leadership and selected by Businessweek as one of the 25 most innovative global business leaders working within a corporation. Ivy was a storyteller at BIF2; see a video of her talk here.

Julius Searight, Founder and Director, Food4Good, lived in 13 different foster homes before moving into his adoptive home at the age of three, an experience that left him gravitating toward community service. A 2013 graduate of Johnson & Wales University, in 2012 he won Startup Weekend and in 2014 he won the Johnson & Wales University Shark Fest pitch competition, the Get Started RI pitch competition by Cox Business and Inc. magazine, the Johnson & Wales Outstanding Young Alumni Award, and was a contestant on the Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race 2014.” An AmeriCorps alumni, he is now a local chef fighting to end hunger in his own community one plate at a time with his nonprofit, Food4Good, a mobile food truck that serves paying customers during the day and turns into a mobile soup kitchen at night.

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

The Power of the Narrative

What happens when you bring together 30+ doctors, nurses, patient advocates, researchers, professors, artists, performers, entrepreneurs, hospital administrators, consultants, and more who believe the power of story can improve care, healing, and health outcomes?

Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects (or for those who know BIF, #RCUS).

Our mission over two days — February 5th and 6th  was to bring these thought leaders together to help define and co-create a narrative “playbook” that will demonstrate the value of narrative methods in the context of healthcare, codify best practices, and engage people in its adoption & implementation. As an Experience Designer, it was important to me to provide the right mix of inspiration, collaboration, and productivity that would allow for people to design their emerging experiences (both online with the #hcnarrative hashtag and offline during the workshop). That’s when beautiful things happen.

Here are some of the big questions we tackled and started to unpack. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to synthesize the ideas, insights, and content that came out of the participatory design studio in order to publicly share the Narrative Healthcare Playbook in March.


How do we define “narrative” (and is that even the right term)?

In planning this event, we expected that defining “narrative” would be an easy task. But the power of nuance and language brought in some messiness to the process  doesn’t it always? We did land on some common elements of the definition, such as the continual and iterative process it takes to build and form, the sense- and meaning-making it provides, and different roles it creates space for. But it also highlighted some differences of opinion (Is it really about empathy for understanding? Or improving care?) including using the term, “narrative”.

What is a narrative “playbook”?

We use the metaphor of a playbook to explain how we envision people using the output. In football, a playbook is a notebook with techniques and strategies relating to game plays. Different situations require different strategies, which take the context (the team formation, skills of the players, how far the goal line is, etc.) into account. This is how we want the playbook to be structured and used  we are building it to provide strategic guidance about how different users can use narrative methods during specific scenarios.

Who are the users and what value does it provide?

As for the users of the playbook, we had originally named three user groups  patients, providers, caregivers, and the fourth group of general “others” (hospital admins/policymakers/payors/etc.). We included the last bucket to see if there were, in fact, other potential users for which narrative could have value. To further develop the user groups and the use case scenarios in which they could use narrative methods, we assigned teams to each group. Starting with a brainstorm about their general needs, teams developed common scenarios (As a patient, “I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic condition”), the challenges within the scenario (“I don’t know how to tell my family”, “I want a second opinion”), and the potential impact the playbook could have (“Linking experience/emotions to language, fostering hope, creating connection”).

What are the barriers to adoption?

We know there are a lot of barriers  emotional, cognitive, cultural, ethical, and systemic  that stand in the way of exploring, adopting, and implementing narrative methods. By writing them all down, it felt overwhelming but also a challenge that we, as a collective group, can undertake.

While we have much work ahead of us  synthesizing scenarios, codifying methods, developing language and tone, and building the deliverable itself  we hope to continue to bring people into the process to co-create the narrative of the power of narrative in healthcare. Check back in to learn about our process and opportunities to participate!

Patients and Families and Doctors, Oh My!

Wow.  ‘Hair on Fire Moments’ and all, the Patient Experience Lab was smokin’ this week (actually, literally, because my hair caught on fire last night from a poorly placed dinner candle, giving me the tapered look I was searching for at my last haircut but didn’t get, making it the perfect metaphorical ending to a crazy but productive week).

The more context, depth, empathy, and honesty that the story has, the better chance we have at using those stories to inspire new relationships, design more relevant experience — and transform social systems.   

The BIF studio was all abuzz this week with brilliant minds from the across the US and UK, collaborating on strategies to catalyze the inculcation of more systematic use of ‘the narrative’ in our healthcare systems.  And our “Family Well-Being” team was down in Dallas exploring the concept of what it means to be “well” with families from all socioeconomic classes, experiencing the role that Texas pride takes on for the born and bred, the incredible resilience found in some of Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods, and the hopes and fears of the first generation change-makers trying to forge a different path than the ones their parents and grandparents took.

The theme: stories, stories, and more stories.  From patients who told us of the day they decided to speak out about failed, intractable systems, to physicians who saved patients from life-altering treatments by avoiding a contextual error discovered through conversation, not data. And of course, families who spoke of the importance of trusted relationships — not only in your inner circle but in your community support system  as a key element of well-being.

I was saddened, inspired, touched, motivated, and challenged by the many stories I heard this week from patients, families, doctors, educators, researchers, and business leaders. It reaffirms my belief that storytelling is one of the most powerful tools for transformation…and the more context, depth, empathy, and honesty that the story has, the better chance we have at using those stories to inspire new relationships, design more relevant experience — and transform social systems.   

A New Story from the Patient Experience Lab

Those who know us well know that at BIF, we believe a great story can change the world. So we’re happy to say that we have just kicked off an exciting new project with funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, all about the power of story in healthcare.

As the Director of the Patient Experience Lab, I have often been heard saying “Our System is Showing” when referring to the challenges in our healthcare system in America. I am obsessed with changing the entire narrative from one where our “system” is the first thing we think about when the topic of healthcare comes up, to one where the path to health and wellness is most visible and top of mind, with a system underneath it, simply supporting it.  An aggressive goal, yes, but every great story has a little tension and a beginning.

Beginning this week, we are inviting thought leaders from around the country to participate in a convening around the notion of how we might capitalize on the power of the narrative to help us better support the care and healing process — both from a patient and provider standpoint. There are so many instances of the use of narrative resulting in positive outcomes, but the efforts are disparate and fragmented. To harness the many uses, practices and narrative forms — from oral and written to artistic — BIF will be hosting a two-day Participatory Design Studio, which is a roll-up-your-sleeves, facilitated session to stimulate point-of-view experience and inspire new thinking based on shared value. We will then codify the results and produce an interactive publication, with a goal of stimulating discussion and implementing some of the methods and tools generated.

Included in the participant list are educators, researchers, physicians, authors, advocates, artists, and patients themselves. We have signed on celebrated professionals from institutions such as Tufts, UCSF, UIC, Kaiser Permanente, Georgetown, and more. We have only just begun the invitation process and are already more than halfway toward our goal of recruiting about 30 individuals who will gather together to share, collaborate, and co-design a comprehensive playbook on the potential for more widespread use of the narrative in healthcare.

This should be a good story, so be sure to follow along as each chapter unfolds. We will be blogging and tweeting about it throughout.

Innovation Lessons From Taylor Swift

I’m not a fan of pop music but I am an innovation junkie. My daughter Alyssa, a self- professed Swiftie, has been pestering me to pay attention, if not to Taylor Swift’s music at least to her business model. She wore me down. Turns out, there’s a lot we innovation junkies can learn from Taylor Swift.

Whether her music is your thing or not (I have to admit its growing on me!), you can’t help but be impressed with Taylor Swift’s business savvy during a time when the music industry is being disrupted to smithereens. I’m most impressed with her social media presence to catalyze a growing army of Swifties and her aggressive stand against Spotify as the business model war between mp3 sales and streaming services rages on.

The most successful businesses today are movements more than companies. Movements don’t market. Movements inspire and engage. They create an emotional connection through storytelling. Not stories to be enjoyed passively but stories we see ourselves in, stories we can actively participate in. What Taylor Swift realizes, that most businesses haven’t figured out, is that “social” isn’t an extension to an existing business model, it is an entirely new business model. Social isn’t a bolt on, its central to how movements start and grow.

Over the last two years, the bottom has fallen out of the U.S. album market with sales plummeting 20%. Taylor Swift’s new album 1989 defies gravity with amazing launch week sales of 1.28 million copies exceeding all expectations according to Nielsen SoundScan. Swifties everywhere mobilized to make it so. My daughter, the fangirl, drove this innovation lesson home for me. Alyssa maintains a Tumblr site dedicated to all things Taylor Swift. I didn’t pay attention until the day she called home proclaiming that the pop star had followed her and had actually responded to her question about all important lipstick choices. My daughter was so excited you would think it was a national holiday! That’s what I call fan engagement.

As if that wasn’t enough to lock in a fan for life, my daughter’s next post was a video of her 3-year-old twin nieces (our granddaughters) dancing to “Shake It Off.” Cute, aren’t they? When Taylor Swift tweeted out the video to her 46 million followers, our granddaughters went viral. Now everyone in our family is a Swiftie!

Multiply the ripple effect from this example of personal engagement thousands and thousands of times and you begin to see how social isn’t about pushing a message out to potential customers, its about pulling people into a movement. Talk about force multipliers. Social business is redundant. All business is social.

There is also an important innovation lesson in the way Taylor Swift has staked out her position in the music industry business model wars. Album sales are declining rapidly because consumers are flocking to free streaming services like Spotify with over 40 million active users. Only about 25% of those active users pay for a premium service without ads, the rest stream for free. 40 million streamers can put a serious dent in album sales. Spotify pays per stream royalties of between $0.006 and $0.0084 which is significantly less than an artist can make through mp3 sales.

Not many artists have Taylor Swift’s market clout but when she announced she was pulling her music off of Spotify it sent a clear message to the market. Content matters and should be paid for. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed and in a Yahoo interview she makes her point of view clear.

“Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for”.

“I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music”.

In a world where content can be digitized and the marginal cost of global distribution is virtually zero consumers have been conditioned to get content for free. It’s a business model free for all. Content producers have been squeezed mercilessly. Journalists, authors, and musicians are being decimated. Newspaper and magazine journalists have been let go in droves left to scramble to make ends meet as free agents. Authors bear the brunt of collateral damage from the battle between Hachette and Amazon. Fewer and fewer musicians can make a living pursuing their passion.

A dangerous narrative has emerged in which content creators are supposed to just accept that their content will be free. Authors are expected to write articles and books for free so they can make money giving speeches and doing consulting work. Musicians are expected to release music for peanuts so they can make money on the road doing concerts.

I have personally fallen into this trap as a steady content producer including tweets, blogs, articles, and even a book. How many of us keep pumping out content for free or very little money in the hopes that it will translate into value in other ways? Taylor Swift is taking an impressive stand. Yes, it is in her best interest to do so but it is also in the interest of content creators everywhere.

Many new business models will emerge in the digital era. It will be messy while the market sorts out and balances consumer, platform, and content creator interests. Business models that don’t recognize the power of customer engagement and fully value the contribution of content creators are unsustainable. This new Swiftie is rooting for Taylor Swift’s continued success.

Originally published on Medium.

Nicole Radziwill Speaks on the Power of RCUS

The storytellers will make your heart sing…and make you cry. You will make friends, you will develop new contacts, and you might even embark upon a journey that takes you places you never could have imagined. – Nicole Radziwill

We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, Nicole Radziwill, Assistant Professor of Integrated Science & Technology at James Madison University, finishes the RCUS story series with an epic tale of serendipitous connection.

Here’s her answer to the question, Why got to the BIF Summit?

What I like most about the BIF summits is that they are magical. The storytellers will make your heart sing…and make you cry. You will make friends, you will develop new contacts, and you might even embark upon a journey that takes you places you never could have imagined. My long and meandering tale aims to share some of this magic with you — and I truly believe it’s only beginning.

A BIF RCUS story always starts with a “Patient Zero” — and the person who started the cascading ripple of an impact that’s changed the direction of my life to date is BIF8 storyteller, Valdis Krebs.

I can’t even remember how I met Valdis, but I know it was online and most likely in early 2008. I was a Ph.D. student working on my dissertation, using the methods of network analysis to develop a metric that would assess whether the quality of an academic journal was improving — or not. Valdis is an expert in network analysis, and I was honored to receive his guidance and develop a friendship. After he participated as a BIF8 storyteller he was bubbling about his experience!

“You’ve got to go!!” he told me. “You would fit right in. These people are all highly engaged, interesting, down-to-earth innovators and they’re all doing something different. You should plan to go this year. Really.”

Valdis is an expert matchmaker in his social and professional network. He’s one of those people that you really should listen to when he makes a comment like that. I didn’t make it to BIF8, but I was definitely intrigued, so I watched some of the videos online. I started to get that effervescent feeling of excitement that comes when stories spark subtle and profound insights that pervade your entire being.

Then, in November 2012, I got a message from BIF’s Chief Catalyst Saul Kaplan — who wanted to chat about my views and experiences in relating quality to disruptive innovation and business model innovation. We didn’t have an agenda when we talked, but he was just such an inspirer that I knew at the end of our conversation — I needed to put BIF9 on my agenda for September of 2013. And I did.

And that’s when the real RCUS began — the magical, serendipitous chain of BIF Summit-enabled collisions that’s connected me with my tribe of free-spirit innovators.

In March 2013, my partner Morgan and I presented a workshop at the headquarters of the Burning Man Project in San Francisco. We shared insights and techniques for how to bring the spirit and principles of the annual Burning Man event in Nevada into higher education. After the talk, James Hanusa and Heather White from the Burning Man Project introduced us to Evonne Heyning, who was working on a startup in Los Angeles to help people better personalize and manage their learning paths. They also told us that we really needed to meet Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who was experimenting with new models for education and engagement in his Downtown Project in Las Vegas. (But how would we ever meet Tony? I had no idea. It seemed completely impossible.)

In May 2013, I told Valdis this was my year. I was going to BIF9. Would he be there? If not, did he know of anyone I should meet? He told me not to worry — I’d meet exactly who I needed to meet. Later, in August, Morgan and I spent the week at Burning Man in a camp organized by Evonne Heyning.

BIF9 was just three weeks after Burning Man. I was convinced that nothing could compare to the intellectual transformation I’d experienced out on the playa — that there could never be a group of people so engaged, so stimulating, so full of the desire to reshape our world through new models for business, and education, and inter-being. But I was wrong!

That’s what I found out when Peter Hirshberg got on the BIF9 stage to share his visions for the new cities of the future, the kinds of models that were paraded proudly at World’s Fair events in the past. As a key example, he provided Black Rock City, the temporary city created by Burning Man participants every year! He had been camped close to us on the playa just a couple of weeks earlier — and so had BIF9 storyteller Ping Fu, the advisor to Marc Andreessen and leader of an inspiring 3D printing company!

As I stumbled through the Trinity Rep Theater into the next BIF9 coffee break, in a daze of excitement to be around such intriguing and passionate people, I overheard the guy next to me say to his friend, “Wait for me, I just want to say something to Tony Hsieh really quickly.” I looked to my left, where Tony stood only five feet away.

Of course, I took the opportunity to say hi. I told him that James and Heather from the Burning Man Project had encouraged me to meet up with him to find out more about the Downtown Project. “Oh, that’s great!” he said. “Talk to Amanda Slavin over here, and tell her to get you signed up for Catalyst Week in March. We’re having a lot of the Burning Man Project people visit then.” Catalyst Week was another amazing experience — and we got to spend even more time with Peter Hirshberg, the speaker we had also met at BIF9.

But the serendipitous connections didn’t stop there. At Catalyst Week, we spent time with Duleesha Kulisooriya, who is Head of Strategy and Research for the Deloitte Center for the Edge. He works with and co-authors books with John Hagel, a BIF7 and BIF10 storyteller, so we’re very excited to spend some time with John soon. Turns out, John is also friends with our Burning Man camp coordinator, Evonne Heyning — and we camped with Duleesha at Burning Man just a couple of weeks ago!

The storytellers are not the only amazing people you’ll meet at BIF — the attendees are also top-notch. One of my favorite connections from BIF9 is Matt Murrie, the guru of the “What If?” conferences. (Everyone should follow him on Twitter at @MattMurrie — his feed is fun and inspiring.)  Matt also connected me with Steve Cooperman, whose Black Mountain SOLE project seeks to create alternative educational environments. All of us who are interested in reinventing the experience of higher education is really starting to come together for beautiful discussions. I can’t wait to see what new models come out of it.

The RCUS at the BIF Summit catalyzes so many ripples of impact! Morgan and I are so excited that BIF10 is coming up in just 8 days. We can’t wait for the next batch of random collisions…or to see what they stir up throughout the rest of the year to come.

Andrea Meyer Speaks on the Power of #RCUS

The storytellers, even luminaries, don’t disappear immediately after leaving the stage. They stay and chat with participants. They listen to the other storytellers and engage in real conversations. – Andrea Meyer

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, long-time friend-of-BIF Andrea Meyer, who is president and founder of Working Knowledge, a well-known innovation tweeter at @AndreaMeyer, and co-author of Present Yourself: Using SlideShare to Grow Your Business.

Here’s her answer to the question: Why go to the BIF summit?

What I like most about BIF Summits are the interactions. At other conferences, luminaries such as BIF storytellers Dan Pink, Clay Christensen, and John Hagel appear only on stage. But at the BIF Summit, the storytellers, even luminaries, don’t disappear immediately after leaving the stage. They stay and chat with participants. They listen to the other storytellers and engage in real conversations. 

I also like the format of BIF, in which storytellers, not speakers, tell stories, not canned speeches. BIF’s founder, Saul Kaplan, encourages storytellers to tell personal stories, and he himself models the thoughtful authenticity that characterizes all of BIF.  He shares his insights, passions, frustrations, hopes — not just bullet points — and so do the storytellers. If there’s a phrase that encapsulates the BIF community, I’d say it’s “smart with heart.”

Many innovators face stiff organizational resistance when they try to offer a new way of doing things. It’s a lonely battle trying to lead change and get others on board. At the BIF Summit, however, innovators find like-minded others. Everyone “gets it” and people support each other. Such encouragement is tremendously uplifting, and it extends after the Summit ends because people remain friends, stay in touch, and indeed often return to BIF to see each other year after year. The fact that storytellers themselves also return to BIF proves that they, too, value the atmosphere.

I attended my first BIF on the recommendation of a friend, and I have returned four times now. Most of the time, I go to experience the serendipity of the “random collisions.”  One time, however, I went with a specific purpose:  To speak with some of the storytellers and attendees to get their input on a book I was coauthoring, called Present Yourself.  At BIF8, storytellers Alex Osterwalder, David Macaulay, and Felice Frankl all offered insights and quotes on visual thinking for my book, and attendee Dean Meyers became one of the case studies we used.

Whether you go with a purpose or go for the RCUS, I encourage you to go!

Marty Baker Speaks on the Power of #RCUS

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, longtime friend-of-BIF Marty Baker, Senior Manager of Global Digital Content for the Hershey Company and Chief Catalyst and Owner of Inotivity, an innovation consultancy.

Here’s his answer to the question: Why go to the BIF Summit?

The DNA of the BIF Summit is stories shared. Compelling, inspiring, and transforming stories about how innovation and innovative thinking is making a difference in the world.

BIF10 will be my sixth BIF Summit Experience — and much like a roller coaster ride, it never ceases to be exciting and the experience is over much too soon. I want to start with the opening lines of a blog I wrote about Jeffrey Sparr, one of the presenters at BIF8:

“Most innovations arrive in public in dress clothes. They are bangles and baubles that don’t reflect the often-perilous road it takes to succeed. You also don’t hear the words ‘innovation’ and ‘courage’ used together. Jeffrey enthralled the audience at BIF because he turned a mental disorder into art and in turn is helping hundreds of people living with similar disorders to thrive.”

Jeffrey isn’t a famous name in the innovation world, nor does he seek recognition in a conventional way. His innovation is a labor of love and sanity in often-insane world.

This is the magic of every BIF Summit I have attended. There are the names you know like Tony Hsieh of Zappos, Mark Cuban, and author Dan Pink. But there are names you probably don’t know. Like Jeffery Sparr and innovators like Angela Blanchard, who will also be a BIF10 storyteller. As President & CEO of Neighborhood Centers, Inc., she led a community development framework throughout the Houston region to impact over 500,000 people a year.

Or innovators like John Donoghue — The Henry Merritt Wriston Professor and Director of the Brain Science Program at Brown University. John and his team created an interface that enabled a paralyzed woman to move a robotic arm simply by thinking. It wasn’t science fiction — it was science.

So why attend BIF10?

Because you never know which story of passion, determination, and focus will transform and inspire you. It may a single story. It may be the curious intersection of many stories. Or it just may be saying hello and talking with Jeffery Sparr at lunch.

The BIF Summit. Nothing transforms like a great story.

Jonathan Follett Speaks on the Power of #RCUS

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, longtime friend-of-BIF Jon Follett of Involution Studios, a software UX design firm, and author of Designing for Emerging Technologies, which will be published this fall.

Here’s his answer to the question: Why go to the BIF Summit?

The BIF Summit gets better every year. This will be my fourth BIF Summit coming up. From day one I’ve felt very much at home when I come to the BIF Summit. I go to a lot of conferences for my job, and it’s the one conference I go to that I look forward to. Part of the reason is that I think the people who attend the conference know that cross-pollination between different professions, different industries, and different types of people is a really powerful thing. You can pretty much go up to anyone at the BIF Summit and start a conversation and be glad you did. That is a really rare thing. I’ve never really encountered that at any other conference.

I find the collision part to be purposeful rather than random. It’s a purposeful cross-pollination of like-minded innovators. It’s not THAT random. It’s more like bees and flowers. It’s only random because you don’t know which bee is going to pollinate which flower. But like bees and flowers, the cross-pollination WILL happen. It is a random collision, but you’re going to be talking to another innovation junkie, someone who shares a like-mindedness in their desire for innovation. And you know they’re probably pretty smart because they’re at the BIF Summit in the first place.

You’ve got these geniuses on stage, these incredible storytellers who will give you a new perspective on everything from brain science to putting together playgrounds for kids. Also, you have the genius of the smart crowd that amplifies what’s being said on stage. You’re getting a continuous, really high-quality level of intellectual stimulation and analysis, because of the high caliber of the speakers and the fact that they stay and engage with people after their talks.

I also find the BIF Summit to be very relaxing, but it takes me time to wind down. After a while, I ask myself, “why am I still checking my email?” If you’re a professional, an entrepreneur, someone who’s making a lot of decisions for a business, it takes time to disengage, to relax, and enjoy the experience. So give yourself 12 to 24 hours to wind down, unplug, and enjoy. That’s Day 2 for me.

If you’re interested in innovation or intellectual pursuits or just being a continuous learner, you should go to the BIF Summit. It’s like the college experience should have been — a lot of intellectually curious people connecting with each other.

What We Mean by ‘the Power of #RCUS’

I’ve been interviewing past BIF Summit attendees, especially repeat attendees, for a series on #RCUS. The #RCUS hashtag means “random collisions of unusual suspects.” Here’s a bit of background on that idea:

We believe that if we bring diverse people together and get them in the same room listening to stories of transformation, then give them time to connect with each other and share their own stories of transformation, they’ll spread that transformational spirit out into their communities and the ensuing wave of creativity will change the world for the better.

We know this sounds like a pipe dream. And that’s one of the reasons we created this “power of #RCUS” blog series — to share real #RCUS stories that make the idea more tangible.

Here’s where you can find the #RCUS stories on this blog:

#BIF10 Storytellers Featured in Series

This summer we’ve been honored with the opportunity to publish a series of articles in the Business section of

For the series, BIF’s Chief Catalyst Saul Kaplan and our wonderful Brown University intern Nicha Ratana have created a series of interviews with BIF10 storytellers that explore their approaches to innovation and the importance of the BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit.

Here’s the series so far:

Jen Hetzel Silbert Speaks on the Power of RCUS

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, longtime friend-of-BIF Jen Hetzel Silbert of Spartina Consulting and the Learning401, an “organizational change consultant, facilitator, and trainer who has an unshakable belief that people can create anything they set their minds to.”

Here’s her answer to the question: Why go to the BIF Summit?

The people I have met at BIF during the conversations at the break, over lunch, over coffee, in between storytellers, have radically changed my work and have helped my network to explode.

Go to the BIF Summit because of who you are going to accidentally, serendipitously sit next to, have coffee with, meet during breaks. Go to the BIF Summit because of the conversations that will be started as a result of the amazing storytellers you’re going to see on stage.  Anyone can watch those stories on video, on the livestream after BIF. But being in the room, to make and watch the sparks fly, is something you cannot get by sitting in your home office.

The people I have met at BIF during the conversations at the break, over lunch, over coffee, in between storytellers, have radically changed my work and have helped my network to explode. But, my network has exploded in ways that are relevant to what I want to be doing. This is no speed-dating like they do at the Chamber of Commerce for Friday coffee — no insult meant to the Chamber of Commerce! But, it’s the people who go to the BIF Summit that make the difference.

And, the conversations start at BIF, but it’s what happens after the Summit that gives them life. I couldn’t be more grateful. I look at my LinkedIn network, my quasi-Rolodex of contacts across social media, and my address book and the majority of them are connected, if not directly, then somehow indirectly, by the crowd at the BIF Summit.

Lois Kelly Speaks on the Power of #RCUS

At the BIF Summit, you can leave your language at the door and just talk. – Lois Kelly

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, longtime friend-of-BIF Lois Kelly of Foghound, a “guide, facilitator, and thought-provoker” who helps organizations and their people change and grow. Lois is a co-author, Along with BIF6 and BIF9 storyteller Carmen Medina, of the upcoming book Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within.

Here’s her answer to the question: Why go to the BIF summit?

In our work, we get in these silos, whether the silos are in companies or in industries. So if you’re in healthcare you say to people, “Do you have healthcare experience? No? Oh well, no.” And then we fall into our comfort zones. We start hanging around with people just like us. Even on social media, people start following people who think just like they do. So you don’t often get the opportunity to be with people who are different. But the BIF Summit is a safe environment where you can talk about everything or nothing. I love talking about everything and nothing! Sometimes when you talk about nothing with certain people, it turns into something.

We all have our work, we have our jobs, which takes up a huge amount of time. We have our neighborhoods of people we feel comfortable with. We live in the suburbs so it’s not like you’re waiting at the bus stop with a bunch of different people. When I grew up I would see many different people  everyone walked down to the bus stop. On our street we had housepainters, MIT professors, truck drivers, engineers, and they would all walk down to the bus stop together. They would talk about sports, what they were doing. The interesting conversations are among people who have different perspectives.

And even if you don’t share the same ideas, there’s something about when you get to know someone as a person, you might not agree with them, but it’s fun to converse with them. Whereas I think with our politics and media and social media, it’s like, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ Win or lose. I think if you know people as people, you actually think about the ideas more. If you don’t know them as people, if it’s just a tweet, you just miss it.

The other thing I like about the BIF Summit is really hearing ideas. It’s a bullshit filter. At some industry conferences, you just hear the “party line” and you have to be “on” all the time. At the Summit, you don’t have to be “on” and other people aren’t “on,” either. There’s no bullshit, no jargon, no industry-specific language that siloes you. You can leave your language at the door and just talk.

Deb Mills-Scofield Speaks on the Power of #RCUS

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. From now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives. Next up, BIF board member and BIF9 storyteller Deborah Mills-Scofield. A former Bell Labs scientist who is now a consultant and venture fund principal, Deb connects people, ideas, and businesses. She is a proud Brown University alumni who mentors students, as well as a prolific writer who publishes in the Harvard Business Review, Switch and Shift, Innovation Excellence, and more.

“The BIF Summit is the ultimate interdisciplinary happening. ” — Deborah Mills-Scofield


Here’s her answer to the question: Why go to the BIF summit?

To me, the BIF Summit is a humbler, more intimate version of TED. It’s where you can talk to people doing amazing things and there’s a sense of inclusion between the participants and the storytellers. People share ideas and learn new ways of doing things from different industries that you can apply to your own. At the BIF Summit, people treat each other as peers and are really anxious to learn from and give to each other. It’s a great critical mass of people from so many walks of life for you to learn from, that’s hard to find anywhere else, frankly. It’s the ultimate interdisciplinary happening.

Some specific examples: John Hagel (who is also a BIF10 storyteller) was a guru of mine growing up. I had read his stuff and knew his writing. At BIF6 I was standing in line for Tony Hsieh’s Happiness Bus right behind John Hagel and was starstruck. I introduced myself, calling him “Mr. Hagel,” and he said, “call me John,” and I said, “I don’t know if I can!” We were able to develop a professional friendship that’s now more of a personal relationship. I can actually call him “John” now! And my relationship with Whitney Johnson came about because I saw her at the BIF Summit, and she’s helped broaden my perspective and ways of thinking.

Whitney and John were more into technology, but Carl Størmer — I never would have crossed paths with him if not for meeting him at BIF9. He would not have been in my normal day-to-day! But now we’ve co-written stuff together and become very good friends.

I’ve been able to get my clients to go to the Summit, and it’s broadened their perspective. But I tell them, “this isn’t about our work, I don’t want to see you at the Summit. I already know you!” At the BIF Summit, random collisions are not just for me, but for my clients too. And I’m happy to say the connections go both ways as well — Liza Donnelly and Matthew T. Fritz, both of whom came to BIF’s attention through my network.

Tim McDonald Speaks on the Power of #RCUS

“We want our Collaborative Innovation Summit filled from stage to seats with people sharing transformation ideas and stories,” says BIF Creative Catalyst Saul Kaplan.

After all, it was out of the Summit that the hashtag #RCUS was coined — Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects. And from now until the Summit takes place in September, we’ll run a series of short interviews with former Summit attendees who’ll tell us in their own words why the BIF Summit is a must-go event and how #RCUS has changed their lives.

Up first: Tim McDonald (@tamcdonald). Tim builds communities, not networks, through relationships that create movements. As the Purveyor of Purpose at Be The Change Revolutions, Tim helps build communities and ignite movements on the No Kid Hungry account to make #NoKidHungry a reality. Previously, Tim was Director of Community at The Huffington Post.

Here’s how Tim answered the question, “Why go to the BIF Summit?”

Three things:

1. Open your mind to new ideas.
2. Connect you with amazing people.
3. Never feel like a stranger from the second you walk in.

I knew a few people who were going to be at the BIF Summit, but I got there after it started, toward the end of the first day. I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as I walked into the lobby area, the few people who were there were coming up and saying “hi” to me. So before I even sat down, I met people. They were strangers, but there didn’t feel like strangers! And then it seemed like there was a chance to connect with someone different every time I turned around.

Right afterward I went back to New York on the same train, by chance, as a couple of other people who had been at the BIF Summit. I went immediately to the Work Revolution Summit and began to run into people I had intended to meet at the BIF Summit but hadn’t had a chance to. I met Whitney Johnson and she said, “I have just heard that you know everybody.”

A similar thing with Matt Murrie (who I didn’t meet at Work Revolution Summit). We didn’t meet at the BIF Summit but we connected because of the BIF Summit.

Those connections have just developed further, into 3rd- and 4th-level relationships I’ve developed just because Matt and I were both at the BIF Summit, made a connection and stayed in touch.

The BIF Summit is unlike any other conference. It’s a combination of things that makes it different. Amazing people go there, and you can easily connect with those amazing people. I’ve committed to putting myself in unusual, uncomfortable situations because I went to the BIF Summit and saw the benefit of doing that.

BIF-8 Q+A with Simon Majumdar

With 19 days left till BIF-8 we’re ready to connect with our storytellers. Simon Majumdar, traveler, bestselling author and Food Network Star has a perfect recipe for transformation. Get a taste for his innovation journey with this recent Q+A interview, before he whips up the main dish on the BIF-8 stage.  

Talk about a defining moment of inspiration for yourself or your organization

My defining moment came at the end of 2006 when I experienced what I now realize was a nervous breakdown caused by many factors.  I found and old notebook with a list of goals to achieve once I turned 40 (have a suit made on Saville Row, run a marathon etc etc)  At the bottom of the list were four words “Go Everywhere, Eat Everything”  That is now the mantra for my life and was the motivation for my first book ‘Eat My Globe”

How does your network keep you creative

I now have an amazing network of Food Network colleagues to whom I look for inspiration, not just for ideas, but also for improvement.  I am a great believer in “humbly seeking out the company of excellence” and find that if I do, everything I do improves because of it.

We here at the Business Innovation Factory are all about passion. Love what you do? Or do what you love?

I am lucky enough to do both.  But, you have to invest in yourself to do it.  I spent my entire life savings to travel and eat around the world, but it has put me in the situation where I now, basically eat for a living.  Not everyone is that lucky, so my advice is, whatever job you do, do it 100% and take satisfaction from that.

We know the importance of transforming business models, can you give us an example of a personal transformation?

the whole “second act” of my life has been a transformation.  I went from being a miserable, miserably single 40 something publisher in London to being living in LA, being married to the woman of my dreams and appearing on National TV.  I have worked very hard to get here and made commitments that perhaps some others would not have been prepared to make, but I also acknowledge both the hard work of others who help me along the way and the enormous good fortune I have encountered to get here.

We learn by doing, how do you test new ideas? 

Ideas are like recipes.  You keep testing them until they are perfect.  I am also a great believer in sharing ideas and goals.  By telling people close to you, it makes them real and helps you focus. Also, you never know who might be able to help you along the way.  They can’t do that if they don’t know what you are trying to achieve.

Do you embrace vulnerability? How do you use it as an asset?

I have always felt vulnerable in my career.  I am one of those people who expect everyday someone to tap him on the shoulder and say “Oi, you shouldn’t be on TV, get back to working in the bookstore (my first job)” It is a great motivator and helps me always give 100%

What’s the biggest obstacle to innovation? How do you get past that obstacle?

The biggest obstacle to innovation is comfort.  People get to a point where they are comfortable and then settle there.  Life should be about challenges, fears of failure, battles to succeed and the immense feeling of satisfaction when you do.

BIF’s Market Maker Infiltrates TEDxDirigo!

Prepare to have your mind blown by Eli Stefanski! Chief Market Maker by day, rockstar storyteller by night, Eli is obsessed with making systems-level thinking sexy.

During her recent talk at TEDxDigiro, Eli lit up the stage with her tale of overcoming the friction in our existing system through social entrepreneurship.

Eli teaches us we need to become inclusive and expansive to solve the world’s problems, and charges us to take action. Warning: Video will compel you to change the world, proceed with caution.

How to Have your Audience at Hello (Sam Horn)

The bloggers have spoken–the BIF summit rocks! Last week Amanda Fenton eloquently discussed her excitement in anticipation for BIF-7, now please turn your attention to Sam Horns’ take on the power of storytelling! -Katherine Hypolite

One of the best conferences I’ve ever attended was BIF-6, held in Providence, RI and hosted by Saul Kaplan of the Business Innovation Factory.

Saul and his team collect an eclectic mix of pioneering thought leaders ranging from Tony Hsieh of Zappos to Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company, Jason Fried of Rework and Keith Yamashita, who believes many of us “fritter away our greatness.”

Each presented a TED-like 18-minute presentation introducing their latest invention or insight.

I was on the edge of my seat for the entire two days.

There was a recurring, underlying theme to each presentation. These visionaries had either:

A) seen something wrong and thought, “Someone should DO something about this. After being bothered about it for a while, they finally concluded, “I’m as much a someone as anyone. I’LL do something about this.”

B) witnessed something that wasn’t what it could be. They thought, “It doesn’t have to be that way. There’s got to be a better way. An easier, greener, more satisfying, profitable way. And I’m going to come up with that way.”

I’ll be featuring some of their intriguing stories in upcoming blogs.

For now, I want to share the opening of the individual who did the best job at winning buy-in the first 60 seconds.

Are you wondering, “Was this someone who’s given hundreds of presentations, who’s done lots of media?”

Nope. The person who had us at hello was a surprise.

She walked to the center of the stage, centered herself (literally and figuratively) and stood tall and confident until everyone in the room gave her their undivided attention.

Then, flashing a playful grin, she said, “I know what you’re thinking.”

Long pause.

“What can a 7th grader possibly teach me about innovation?!”

Big smile.

“Well, we 7th graders know a thing or two. Like,” and here she spoofed herself, “how to flip our hair.” At this point, she tossed her long hair over her shoulder.

The crowd laughed, (with her, not at her). Everyone was instantly engaged and impressed with this young woman’s moxie and presence.

“We also know we have the power to make things better if we put our minds to it. For example . . . ” and she was off and running.

12-year-old Cassandra Lin had us at hello.

The Cliff Notes version of her story is that she and her class discovered the clogged sewer pipes in their city were the verge of causing a disaster because so many restaurants and industrial companies were pouring their F.O.G (Fat, Oil, Grease) down the closest drain.

After doing some research, she and her classmates started T.G.I.F – Turn Grease into Fuel – an award-winning recycling effort that generates money for needy families.

Read the entire article at Sam Horn’s blog

Soaking up the Learning: BIF-6 Summit Recap

Boundary-breaking, silo-jumping, diversity-crazed, passionate, courageous headcases. That’s who catalyzes change. Despite the continued turmoil of our global economy and the daunting task that still lies ahead for so many companies to rebuild, fearless and sometimes deeply moving (Keith Yamashita, you are a gift) optimism prevailed during this year’s BIF-6 Summit. Innovators are a unique bunch. The glass is ALWAYS half full.

Our thanks to everyone – storyteller and participant alike – who made the Summit the best ever. We now move from presentation to conversation and connection. On the BIF-6 portal site you will find:

Cruise through these pages to listen and learn about the BIF-6 storytellers, comment on what you have heard, connect with each other and let’s keep the conversation going.

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

First of BIF Summit Talks Debut on

The first of BIF’s Summit talks has debuted on The first video–an amazing piece from BIF-5 storyteller Carne Ross–was featured today. This marks the official launch of BIF and TED’s new content-sharing partnership. TED has begun publishing select videos from BIF’s Innovation Story Studio archive and past BIF Summits on the website. TED is also the official on-line content partner for the 2010 BIF-6 Summit, held this year on September 15-16.

Carne was one of my favorite storytellers from the 2009 BIF-5 Summit. Take a few minutes to watch an inspiring talk about his career as a diplomat for the UK and his bold decision to resign over the misuse of intelligence in Iraq. In response to this experience, Carne created Independent Diplomat, the world’s first independent, not-for-profit diplomacy services organization.

As the BIF Summit online content partner, TED will select a subset of BIF Summit stories to syndicate through its TEDTalks web portal. TED will also select stories from past BIF Summits to run throughout the year. All of BIF’s video content is shared via BIF’s Innovation Story Studio, an online repository of hundreds of videos, podcasts, interviews and narrative stories about innovation from across the public and private sectors. All BIF-6 videos will be available on the BIF site immediately following the Summit.

“ hosts over 700 amazing talk videos that have collectively been viewed some 250 million times — and we’re thrilled to add talks from BIF to the mix, through our content partnership program. The Business Innovation Factory Summit, with its focus on strong storytelling, just delivers great video. This content partnership was a natural choice for us,” says Emily McManus, editor of

Watch Carne’s talk on

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

BIF, TED Join Forces to Share Video Content; TED to Serve as On-Line Content Partner for BIF-6 Summit

BIF and TED have embarked on a new content-sharing partnership. This summer, TED will begin publishing select videos from BIF’s Innovation Story Studio archive on the website. TED will also be the on-line content partner for the 2010 BIF-6 Summit, held this year on September 15-16.

The BIF Summit, now in its sixth year, is the annual gathering of BIF’s national innovation community. The BIF Summit brings ~30 storytellers together for a two-day conversation about what it takes to create change, offering participants a unique opportunity to transcend the boundaries of silo-ed thinking and forge new alliances with potential collaborators. In 2009, named the BIF Summit one of the seven top places in the world to connect with best minds.

As the BIF Summit on-line content partner, TED will select a subset of BIF Summit stories to syndicate through its TEDTalks web portal. TED will also select stories from past BIF Summits to run throughout the year. All of BIF’s video content is shared via BIF’s Innovation Story Studio, an online repository of hundreds of videos, podcasts, interviews and narrative stories about innovation from across the public and private sectors. All BIF-6 videos will be available on the BIF site immediately following the Summit.

“ hosts over 700 amazing talk videos that have collectively been viewed some 250 million times — and we’re thrilled to add talks from BIF to the mix, through our content partnership program. The Business Innovation Factory Summit, with its focus on strong storytelling, just delivers great video. This content partnership was a natural choice for us,” says Emily McManus, editor of

Stories Can Change The World

“Facts are facts, but stories are who we are, how we learn, and what it all means.”  My friend Alan Webber, Co-founder of Fast Company and author of Rules of Thumb, has it exactly right.

Storytelling is the most important tool for any innovator.  It is the best way to create emotional connections to your ideas and innovations.  Sharing stories is the way to create a network of passionate supporters that can help spread ideas and make them a reality.  We remember stories.  We relate to stories and they compel us to action.

Storytelling is a core value at the Business Innovation Factory (BIF).  We believe that advancing our mission to enable system change in health care, education, and government is critically dependant on our ability to create, package, and share stories from our work.  Everything we do is about storytelling and our Innovation Story Studio is one of BIF’s most important capabilities.  By openly sharing stories about the process and output of BIF’s work we are strengthening our community of innovators and becoming more purposeful with every new story.

It is no surprise that BIF’s annual Collaborative Innovation Summit is all about storytelling.  I will never forget meeting with my friend and mentor Richard Saul Wurman (RSW) to get his advice prior to our first summit five years ago.  As an innovation junkie, it doesn’t get any better than having RSW as a mentor. He founded TED for heaven’s sake.  I went to the meeting prepared with an approach that I had worked on for weeks.  As an MBA, of course, I had a matrix, with speakers organized by theme.  RSW heard me out and could only shake his head saying, Saul, you have a lot to learn about how to create an emotional connection with an audience.  He patiently told me to throw away the matrix.  He said it was as simple as inviting people to a dinner party.  Ask speakers that you want to have dinner with to share a personal story that you are selfishly interested in and invite others to listen in.  RSW has been a storyteller at every summit we have hosted.

I love RSW for that advice.  That is exactly what we do.  No PowerPoint presentations, no matrix, just stories.  One glorious story after another in no particular order, from storytellers (not speakers) sharing personal and raw insights about what innovation means to them.  After about four to five stories back to back with no boring Q&A to break the rhythm we take a long break where all of the storytellers and participants can interact, connect, and share their own innovation stories and experiences.  No breakouts, flip charts, or prescriptive assignments.  It is up to the 300 participants to decide what is compelling and which connections are most interesting and valuable. The most interesting collaborations every year come from connecting unusual suspects that find value in the gray area between their interests and disciplines.

Every year one of my favorite things to do is connect with each of the storytellers to discuss the upcoming summit and their stories.  I am almost through these calls for our upcoming summit, BIF-5, on October 7-8.  Talk about a kid in a candy store.  To talk with each of these innovators is inspiring and a great joy.  Check out the BIF-5 storytellers and you will see what I mean.  These innovators are asked to give speeches all of the time.  Many of them have written books and do speaking tours.  They all have PowerPoint presentations in the drawer and a stock speech they can give in their sleep, which they are not allowed to use at a BIF summit.  I always find our storyteller’s reactions interesting when they discuss preparations for sharing a story versus giving a speech.  They all say that it is far more interesting and challenging to tell a story than to give a speech.  Regardless of their fame on the speaking circuit, there is always trepidation in their voices when we discuss their stories.  Every storyteller over five years has said that they are excited to hear the stories from the other storytellers and will be glad when they are done sharing their own. That is why they take the gig.  It is a refreshing break from the grind of the speaking circuit.  Storytelling is harder but more personally rewarding.

I can’t wait to hear the stories at BIF-5.  All of the stories will be posted in the BIF Innovation Story Studio along with the videos from BIF-1 – BIF-4 so everyone can access them.

BIF-1 storyteller and storytelling expert Steve Denning says, “People think in stories, communicate in stories, even dream in stories. If you want to get anything done in an organization, you need to know how to use the story to move people.”  I agree with Steve, stories can change the world and storytelling is the way to make it happen.

Mashable Names BIF-5 Summit Among Top 7 Places to Watch Great Minds in Action

The BIF-5 Summit was in good company today when Mashable named BIF-5 among the nation’s best places to connect with great minds.

Named alongside TED and Pop!Tech (two very excellent national gatherings of innovation talent), the BIF Summit was noted both for the quality of the event and for BIF’s effort to make video proceedings freely available via the web (See BIF’s Innovation Story Studio for a full catalog of video assets).

One of the features that makes the BIF Summit convergence so unique is the intimacy of the event (capped at 500) and the accessibility of the storytellers.  We don’t pay these innovation rock stars to come, so those who participate do so because they believe in the value of the experience.

There are less than 70 seats left for this year’s Summit on October 7-8 in Providence.  This year, BIF-5 will be co-hosted by BusinessWeek contributing editor Bruce Nussbaum and bestselling author Bill Taylor.  The duo will oversee a program that includes stories from innovators from across the county and every imaginable discipline and industry.

Connect. Inspire. Transform. Register #BIF2018

The MinuteClinic Disruption

The Boston Herald ran a story over the weekend about Rhode Island-based CVS’s plans to locate low-cost health care clinics in retail stores in Boston. I’m sure CVS knew they were in for a fight considering the lengths many Rhode Island primary-care physicians have taken to block their efforts to do the same here in our state.

From the article Competition won’t ail you:

“Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is concerned about CVS’s plans to locate low-cost health care clinics in retail stores in his city. Limited service medical clinics run by merchants in for-profit corporations will seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene, he has said.”

The idea of the MinuteClinic is as much a mindset problem as it is a financial threat. The model runs counter to everything a physician has been trained for. Another problem – most physicians don’t want to be businesspeople and this is a real business conundrum. Following a disruptive strategy involves fear, risk and potential cannibalization—the mindset being that current customers (or patients as the case may be) are the lifeblood of the company (physician practices) and they must be protected at all costs. Of course in the end, these fears usually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Clay Christensen is one of our research advisors here at the Business Innovation Factory. He would emphatically say don’t bother fighting the disruption. But he’ll also tell you that if you answer the disruptive threat, you shouldn’t invest your dollars in trying to advance your existing business model to please your existing customers in your existing value network. In so doing, you force the disruptive technology to compete on a sustaining basis, and will nearly always fail.

Clay suggests shifting responsibility for answering the disruptive threat to an autonomous organization that can then frame it as an opportunity. A new organization can pursue alternative channels, utilize different suppliers, and employ different services. Most importantly, they can do this without hindering their current, and most likely profitable value network while also giving their new growth ventures a solid foundation for success.

What does that mean for a primary-care physician’s practice? Here’s what Innosight (the consulting firm founded by Clay Christensen) has to say:

“In reality, these clinic’s present a good growth opportunity, but it will require significant change in one that requires a significant change in business practices vs. operating the sort of doctor’s office to which they are accustomed. Predictably, rather than seeing local doctors seize the opportunity, we are witnessing new specialists such as CHD Meridian and Whole Health Management ride the disruptive wave.”

Without a doubt, this story will be one for the record books. It’ll be fascinating to watch it play out. (Even though we all know the ending.)

Twenty-Nine Words or Fewer

On Wednesday, April 12, 2006, I had the great fortune to participate in Steve Denning’s workshop: Storytelling and Innovation at the Hasbro Corporate Headquarters in Pawtucket.

I did not know what to expect from the day, but I have an MFA in fiction writing (which has not, incidentally, translated into high career potential), so I was curious to hear about how storytelling and narrative could be used to tackle challenging topics in ways that would be compelling to a business audience.

Denning appeared to be a rather unassuming man, standing half-behind the podium as the introductory remarks were being made. As soon as he took center stage, however, he sprung to action and the workshop participants were drawn in by his candor, his enthusiasm, and his dynamic presentation style. He began by sharing a personal anecdote about his own experience at World Bank in the late 1990s. It was his relating of a 29-word story that not only changed the course of his own career but the path that the World Bank was to embark on from that point forward.

Through a series of clear, straightforward, and thoughtful prompts, and several small group activities, the power of storytelling to persuade, cajole, and inspire was demonstrated. To be sure, Denning was not talking about spinning yarns or fairy tales (although he did warn us that our stories should have “happy endings”), but about concise, well-wrought narratives that were true, positive in tone, and minimalist. This story – a “springboard story” was the key to an effective presentation, which would accomplish three essential tasks: 1. Get the attention of the audience; 2. Stimulate their emotions; and 3. Reinforce emotions with reasons.

We spent the morning working on developing our own “springboard stories” and in the afternoon, Denning took some time to talk more broadly about the role of storytelling in organizational change. Because innovation by definition is a difficult thing for an organization to accomplish, finding the formula to lasting change can be fraught with pitfalls. In order to allow potential naysayers to find their own ways into a new or complex idea, a change agent can use springboard stories and other narrative techniques to encourage envisioning a shared future. “Just imagine…” “What if…” and “Just think…” are key phrases that can link these stories to potential change.

By the end of the afternoon, we had worked out a framework for an effective presentation for organizational change. A few of the braver among us made their own presentations through which we were able to see Denning’s principles at work. These presentations were lively, engaging, inspiring and sound. We were leaving this room with real tools, and real power for change.

I personally left Steve Denning’s workshop invigorated, inspired, and with a deeper understanding of the power of effective communication. And with a renewed faith that my MFA will be valuable in ways I could not have anticipated.

Thank you, Steve Denning, and thank you, Business Innovation Factory!