Why Strategic Doing and CONNECTS?

The moral ambition behind CONNECTS

By Joost Visser, co-founder and CEO of the Brussels based CONNECTS platform.

(This article was originally published on CONNECTS.)

“Imagine… a world in which a critical mass of leaders in private, public sectors and civil society would be equipped with the disciplines and skills needed to deal with the complex challenges they face, challenges that require collaboration, as opposed to the command and control approach most leaders currently apply as a default for all challenges…”

Ed Morrison, the founder and driving force behind Strategic Doing, is often asked why Strategic Doing Institute chose CONNECTS as its global partner to realise its mission of building a global community of leaders making a sustained global impact in dealing with the complex challenges the world is facing.

His answer: “It is as much about the technology as the team behind it, and their level of understanding of what Strategic Doing is about. CONNECTS is not perfect, it is a work in progress, but when we started our partnership, it was the closest we had come across as a platform that fits our global ambition and is run by a team that has a vision that is 100% aligned with ours.”

To support his point Ed asked me to share the CONNECTS origin story and the moral ambition behind it.

TIAO, the company behind CONNECTS, was founded in 2016 by a diverse group of partners from different backgrounds (corporate, entrepreneurial, public sector, tech sector) brought together through their joint work with and for existing advocacy and purpose networks in Brussels, the political capital of Europe.

A key concern of us, as founders at that time, was the decline in terms of membership, business models and relevancy of legacy business-to-business networks and trade associations. Networks whose purpose is to represent and support SMEs in their local ecosystems and many other stakeholders in a world that is increasingly transforming into a platform economy.

“How can we avoid a dystopian future in which the only option for a small and medium size business is to run their company on 1 of 3 global platforms that dictate their terms and in which access to relationships and opportunities is determined by algorithms controlled by the platform owners?”, was the question we were asking ourselves.

“Let’s create a level playing field and connect existing local networks and their ecosystems while they are still strong today and empower them and facilitate their projects to create sustained mutual value for their businesses and communities”, was the answer.

Recognising that building trust online would be critical to achieving our mission and engaging SMEs online, we decided to call our company TIAO, which is an acronym for ‘Trust Is An Outcome’.

The design of our platform is based on the insight that trust is an outcome, based on the delivery of results, in a transparent way, taking accountability for our actions. Most people prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. Trust usually develops in this order.

Today we are in 2024 and witness the decline of legacy networks that have not adapted to the digital age, and we are increasingly confronted with individuals, companies and communities that feel exhausted by competitive pressures, anxious about their future, powerless due to their perceived lack of opportunity and access to resources.

I recently reread quotes from Hannah Arendt, the 20th century American historian and philosopher, known for her work dealing with the nature of power, that describe the situation we are in, and give us direction on how we can find our way out of this.

Hannah Ahrendt stated: “Power emerges when individuals together decide to collaborate. It is the capacity to act in concert for a common purpose. Power needs to be distinguished from strength, force, and violence. Unlike strength, it is not the property of an individual, but of a plurality of actors joining together for a common purpose.”

Hannah Arendt argues that power is communication, not coercion and control: “Power radically differs from control, domination or violence in that it cannot be exercised over someone; it can only be exercised with others through communication and cooperation.”

Digitalisation has brought the world many benefits but is also increasingly creating a situation in which more and more people and companies feel like powerless cogs in a system that does not necessarily have their best interests in mind, making them run faster and faster just to be able to hold on to what they have today.

Doug Smith, the architect of Performance Driven Change, when introducing his methodology starts with a slide showing the many complex challenges the world is facing, followed by a slide of the global political and corporate structures that have demonstrated over the years that the solutions to overcoming these challenges will not be generated by them.

According to Doug, the change needed can only happen by the people in the middle, the organisations, firms and teams, by getting individuals to collaborate to achieve a common goal.

This is why as CONNECTS we are delighted to be partnering with Ed Morrison, Doug Smith and Strategic Doing Fellows in growing the global community of Strategic Doing practitioners and launching challenge-centric communities on our platform in which we empower, design, guide and scale collaborations between individuals, teams, companies and purpose networks to achieve sustained positive transformational outcomes that have a significant net benefit for everyone involved.

The Strategic Doing Institute and CONNECTS are now ‘joined at the hip’. Together we provide the enabling technology and collaborative capability needed for legacy networks to transform themselves and for new networks to emerge that deal with complex challenges we are facing.

  • We provide the smart and safe digital infrastructure to connect actors and their assets and enable them to collaborate as-a-service
  • We teach the methodology and skill set for effective and efficient collaboration
  • We enable practitioners to experience the method and the cohort approach
  • We help clients to apply the method to solve their challenges
  • We help clients to use the methods to scale real change and transformation

Source: Strategic Doing Institute

Challenge areas we focus on are Building Flourishing Communities, Future Proofing Universities, Developing Innovation Ecosystems, Adopting Innovative Management Strategies, and Performance Driven Policy Making.

For each challenge area, we are building an Open Community, a learning community, with its own framing question. In these communities, we organise monthly talks in which everyone interested in the topic is welcome to join, share, learn and discuss what paths we could take towards achieving the outcomes we need in this area.

From the Open Communities, we spin out innovation networks, learning programs and projects in which teams and cohorts are collaborating to implement solutions for their real-world challenges, guided and facilitated by Strategic Doing Fellows and the CONNECTS team.

Questions we ask at the launch of each new network or project are:

  • What is the outcome we are looking for?
  • Who do we need to attract? What is the customer avatar?
  • What is our ‘From-To’ (transformation level required to make)
  • What is the ‘maturity’ level of the core team?
  • What is the funding model of our collaboration? How can we make the network sustainable and scalable?

The last question is very important. We will not be able to create a sustained impact with any Pathfinder project if there is no funding model behind it, regardless of what type of model. Our approach requires building new capabilities and practices, rapid prototyping, building new systems and business models, rollout out and scaling what works in the real world.

Most networks and projects evolve in 3 stages that each need their own funding:

  • Design/prototype stage – 90 days
  • Prototyping phase – 6 to 9 months
  • Scaling phase – 12 to 18 months.

Within Strategic Doing there are Teaching and Practice Fellows. The CONNECTS team works hand in hand with both groups in growing the number of people who learn and practice the methodology. Strategic Doing Fellows are independent consultants or entrepreneurs but can also be employed within public and private sector and non-profit organisations.

I started this post with a framing question: “Imagine… a world in which a critical mass of leaders in private, public sectors and civil society would be equipped with the disciplines and skills needed to deal with the complex challenges they face?”

Since the financial crisis in 2008, there has been a lot of talk about the fact that we now live in a world characterized by permanent crisis, often using the acronym VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous).

I believe it is important to have a different perspective. We have always lived in a world that is inherently dynamic and adaptive. It is important that leaders understand the interconnected, evolving nature of business and society.  Businesses and organisations have always had to adapt and innovate in response to challenges, building resilience and making progress. The way to do this is through a collaborative approach, not command and control.