Applying “Big Thinks” to Big Problems for Big Results - SecondMuse

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    In a Big Think, we engage partners within the ecosystem to help develop community-sourced solutions in an inclusive space free of power cultures.

    As a community-centered and collaborative organization building resilient economies, SecondMuse is diligent about constructing outcome-based initiatives from the ground up, guided by the ideas of partners and their diverse experiences, perspectives, knowledge, skills, and expertise. 

    Most of the initiatives we have launched have emerged from voluminous research that underpins a stakeholder brainstorming session we call a “Big Think,” which harnesses the power of diverse voices and perspectives in the ecosystem. In a Big Think, we engage partners within the ecosystem to help develop community-sourced solutions in an inclusive space free of power cultures. SecondMuse staff play the role of a neutral facilitator to primarily ensure that the sessions produce outcomes.

    In organizing these Big Thinks, we found ourselves learning lessons that were unexpected, and reinforcing our commitment to listening and partnering with different voices.

    The process works this way: based on research identifying strengths and opportunities to leverage additional value, we begin designing programs aimed at powering the most suitable innovation for the community. To establish consensus and alignment among actors, we gather for a Big Think to synthesize information, develop a collective goal, and remove redundancies. A Big Think serves as the initiative’s kickoff.

    Many collaborative efforts among multiple organizational partners employ a similar framework known as collective impact, where collaborators focus on their particular effort within the greater whole, with a neutral facilitating organization tracking data and ensuring that gaps are filled and redundancies are eliminated. Our Big Think is designed following the same principle and tailored to the context of the issues we’re addressing. 

    A Big Think was the catalyst for our Gender Equality in Tech (GET) Cities initiative, which kicked off in Chicago in 2020 to build inclusive pathways for women, trans, and non-binary people in tech. The initiative develops platforms, data tools, and mentor connections to advance gender equality in the industry and to foster the conditions that encourage retention of those women who enter it. For the first cohort of 20 women in Chicago, 100% of the women remained in their jobs.

    The Incubation Network, our impact-driven initiative that strengthens the entrepreneurial ecosystem to combat plastic pollution, was also fueled by a Big Think. Convening stakeholders and designing hypotheses, we repeatedly presented our participants with “How might we…?” questions that spurred ideas and helped craft solutions. Big Thinks allow SecondMuse to build a community around a project and validate the research with grassroots experiences.

    The Incubation Network’s first Big Think took place in 2019 in Singapore where two-dozen participants broke into smaller groups and spent half a day discussing challenge statements and presenting the full cohort with pathways forward. With the onset of Covid-19, Big Thinks moved virtual and adapted into a series of Little Thinks of four-to-eight people. This retains participants’ engagement and provides enough space to listen to every voice –  so at the end, we have the same quality of insights from the Big Think.

    Big Thinks inspire our partners and establish a community of effort, but their primary lesson is to reinforce the value of partnerships and their unexpected insights. This is particularly true of corporate partners whose public pronouncements often soft-pedal the urgency of the problem, but whose internal teams share our passion for immediate action. Big Thinks provide a forum for real, no-holds-barred conversations constructed on a foundation of honesty, transparency, and collaboration.

    While we are always inspired by the surprising insights of our partners, the dynamic is occasionally reversed. SecondMuse will partner with actors whose policies or business models do not reflect our values if there is an opportunity to reduce their negative impact or produce positive contributions elsewhere. One significant foundation initially declined to collaborate with us because of our partnership with a petrochemical company. Once coaxed to join us at a Big Think, they decided that their own work would benefit from collaboration on a shared effort.

    Big Thinks earn hosannas from participants, who appreciate their collaborative nature and the honest, solutions-based dialogue. Through several years of experience, SecondMuse has honed the formats to optimize their efficiency and offer stakeholders a more productive use of their time. It just goes to show that even the design of a Big Think could benefit from some big thinking.