Category Archives: 5 Experimenting

Think Pond Tools: Basic Rules for Sustaining New Endeavors

Entrepreneurial projects are most vulnerable in the early stages, when no one is yet earning money or public recognition. People see the possibilities. They are excited. They want to be part of the team. They are willing to contribute. Then a team member sees an opportunity to get immediate financial benefits or career advancement. The need to earn a living and achieve security is compelling. Thus they place the experiment on the back burner. The project loses momentum. The leader says nothing because he or she can’t pay anyone yet. The promising endeavor fizzles.

Similar problems arise in the world of nonprofits. A team with a promising new program idea may become quickly diverted when a new grant solicitation offers the opportunity for short-term gains.

Think Ponds sustain members’ experiments and projects by adhering to these ground rules:

  • We will communicate as a team every x weeks, even when nothing is going on.
  • For an active project, the project leader will update the team regularly (at an agreed-upon interval).
  • There will be at least one mechanism for sharing information as it emerges and keeping the whole group up-to-date on important developments.
  • We will make only commitments we can keep. Barring dire circumstances, we will keep our commitments even if it means making greater sacrifices than originally anticipated.
  • If we are having an unforeseen problem that could affect a project we have committed to, we will let the leader know immediately so that backup can be planned or schedule adjusted. In dire circumstances, we will do everything we can to make sure we can hand off the work in the best shape possible.

Tools for Think Ponds: Let’s “Betend”

When my grandsons play together with their action figures and toy cars, they create a running narrative that is always punctuated by the word “betend” (their way of saying “pretend”). The five-year-old–I call him “Buddy”–will say, “Betend all the animals escaped in the city” or “Betend there is a volcano over there.” The four-year-old–I call him “Punkin Pie”–used to follow along but now is starting to add his own “betend” scenarios.

Of course, the mispronounced word is now and will always be part of our family’s lexicon, but I also think it might be a good way to describe a transitional stage many of us have experienced in our lives and careers. It’s when our actions and roles are more than pretending but not quite being.

Think Pond Enterprises is kind of like that now. It sounds like more than it is. But we are not pretending. We are looking at the world, exploring our imaginations and creative urges, and learning as if the world we desire is unfolding. We are swerving from the grooves of thought we took for granted, testing our wings, conducting thought experiments. That’s betending.

Experimental Entrepreneurship: Essential Questions

  1. What comes to mind when you think about turning your passion into a business?
  2. What are you currently making or doing for free that could be marketed?
  3. Do you have a solution that could become a product or service?
  • Do you have any visible/tangible manifestations of that idea?
  • What would it take to start producing/doing something from your idea on the smallest scale possible?
  • What is the closest thing to that idea that is currently being offered?
  • What existing business or other entity (nonprofit, government body or agency) might possibly be working on an idea like yours? Who might be interested in it?
  • Who would be interested in buying your solution? Why would it appeal to them? What do they need?

The Value of Program Documentation

By Deborah Vrabel

Documentation is a coherent record of your organization’s most important, meaningful activities, methods, and outcomes. It shows—through text, images, recordings, and artifacts—that a program or project is active, exciting, and fruitful.

It also is an effective but underutilized strategy for improving program sustainability.

Well-planned and executed documentation offers five benefits that all lead to stronger, more sustainable programs:

  1. Increases visibility
  2. Builds relationships
  3. Strengthens implementation
  4. Enriches evaluation
  5. Expands funding opportunities

Effective documentation helps you tell a coherent story that highlights the most important activities and features of a project or program. Building this story does not have to be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming if you:

  • Use your imagination.
  • Develop and implement a simple, realistic documentation plan.
  • Follow and regularly revisit the plan.
  • Promote awareness, involvement, and resourcefulness.