Making connections and joining the dots

Published by Lucy Gower on

In a previous 101 crowdblog Adventures in Innovation – The Prequel, we discussed how innovation is not about a lone genius sat in a room inventing stuff. Good ideas are often slow hunches that have been in people’s heads for ages fuelled by making a series of connections, and often helped along by curiosity, perseverance and passion.

Remember how Tim Berners Lee was quietly putting connections together for 20 years before he invented the World Wide Web? He had a slow hunch, he was passionate about data, curious how he could make sense of it and kept persevering putting connections together until he found a solution.

In his 2005 commencement speech Steve Jobs talks about joining dots, or making connections. He tells a story of when he dropped out of college, how it gave him the opportunity to drop into classes he was interested in; the courses he was passionate about. He joined a calligraphy class. He described it as, ‘beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture’ – and he found it fascinating. At that point in his life calligraphy had absolutely no practical application for Steve, it was only 10 years later when designing the first Macintosh, the dots got joined up. Personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do today if he hadn’t been captivated by that calligraphy class. Steve had a natural curiosity, was passionate about perfection and determined to develop the best computer in the world.

Making connections, or joining dots combined with curiosity passion and determination are also important to your fundraising ideas.

However, you can only connect the dots looking backwards, so you have to have faith and trust that the connections that you are making will one day connect into a great idea. That’s part of the deal with creativity and innovation.

In Adventures in Innovation – The challenge of Time I mentioned Google 20% time; deliberate time to allow people to work on projects they are curious and passionate about and an opportunity to make those connections.

“Part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, and poets, and artists, and zoologists, and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world.”  Steve Jobs

Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project encourages his team to make connections; each employee has to read at least one book a year and review it for colleagues. They are also asked to carry out acts of ‘guerilla goodwill’ where kindness or gifts are shared with someone who is not expecting it. Guerilla goodwill; a great idea for delighting donors too.

So if ideas are a series of connections or dots joined together in a new way, then it stands to reason that the more connections, dots or different experiences you have, the more chance you have of combining them into a new idea.

Your challenge is to be more deliberate about making connections that you will be able to join at a later date. Seek different experiences that are outside your ‘normal’ day to day routine, seek different perspectives (remember how that was an important element to your idea sessions planning).  Find things that you are passionate or curious about and learn more. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

1. Read a different newspaper or magazine – read something your have always been curious about or fascinated by.

2 Take up a new activity – what have you been meaning to do but just haven’t got round to?

3. Go spend time with your donors. Hang out where they hang out.

4. Watch a film that you wouldn’t usually watch – maybe a different genre, or ask someone else to choose for you.

5. Go for coffee or lunch with a colleague that works in a different team who will have a different perspective – and go somewhere new.

6. Ask children – children are the most creative people because they haven’t got such ingrained patterns of behavior as adults. Children ask ‘why?’ more.

7. Take a different route to work – break your everyday routine.

8. Cook a new recipe – if you are not a natural chef, take a cookery lesson, or eat out in a restaurant that you have never been to.

9. Listen to a different radio station – you get the idea, one that is totally different to your normal preference. Try it for a week. Then change again.

10. Get out of your normal environment – for a set time every week. Go and work from the local coffee shop, hold a meeting in the park. Have a lunch break – a real break not a rushed sandwich at your desk.

11. Take a walk in the park during office hours. Deliberately change the pace of your thinking. Take time to ponder.

12. Keep an ideas notebook to record your new connections and observations, get ready for that opportunity to join them up.

You are all inherently creative and you can all ‘do’ innovation. Being more deliberate about developing your range of experiences and bringing these new connections back to your fundraising is a key part of the creative process. Do this and you are setting yourself up for having more creative fundraising ideas.  Have a go and let me know how you get on.

Lucy Gower

Lucy has been a fundraiser for over 10 years and is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance. Lucy is an independent trainer and consultant specializing in innovation in fundraising. Lucy also blogs for fundraising website sofii.org and is a conference speaker both in the UK and overseas.


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