Kevin Fong - Organizational Design
Innovation and Chocolate


If you happen to be in Santa Fe, be sure to stop by the Kakawa Chocolate House, where they serve traditional chocolate drinks derived from recipes of the indigenous people of Central America.  The concoction I chose combined chiles, herbs, nuts and a hint of agave to create a pungent, spicy, bitter and sweet experience. The afterglow from this drink kept me tingly for hours.   This was no Nestle’s Quik.  I took one sip and knew that this stuff was the work of genius. I imagine it wasn’t just one genius who was responsible for creating this elixir.  It took many people over hundreds of years innovating upon the creations and lessons of their predecessors.   


Innovation is one of the unique superpowers that we humans possess. Just one look at how technology has evolved over the past few years is proof enough that innovation is alive and well. But there needs to be a right balance of reflection, communication, collaboration, and healthy competition for innovation to thrive.

I am often called to help organizations get out of their ruts, see things differently and chart a new course.  I typically pose a question like, “if you could take a picture of your organization in five years, what would it look like? or “What would you do to change or improve your organization if you had unlimited resources?”  Then I give everyone ten minutes to write down their thoughts.  This reflection time allows all ideas and voices to percolate regardless of age, position or tenure.  I then have the participants work in small groups to communicate and collaborate on their ideas and come up with their top three choices.  After the groups share, I add a dose of healthy competition to measure the ideas against what they know, what they have in terms of resources, what’s in alignment with their mission and most importantly, what’s best for the community.


During these tough economic times, the natural response for organizations is to step away from innovation.  But the most successful organizations are those who stay in the creative mode and encourage innovation.  Last weekend, I worked with a 58-year old organization that reaffirmed innovation as one of their core values and key to longevity.  The board of another thriving organization sets aside $5,000 each year to fund innovative ideas generated by the staff.


How do you cultivate curiosity and innovation in your communities and organizations?  I encourage you to do whatever it takes to give people permission to think out of the box and take a few strategic risks toward innovation.  After all, if innovative genius could create such an amazing elixir of chocolate, herbs, chiles and agave, is there any social issue we can’t solve?

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