You Say Potato, I say Potato

French fries, belgian frites, latkes, hash browns, spuds, stamppots. We at InWithForward are big fans of the potato. Here we are on Thursday night, sharing fries with Wilma. She’s showing us the floor plan of the 3-bedroom house she’s just gotten. After 9-months of waiting in a 1-bedroom unit at the Shelter. Wilma’s pleased with her numbers this week. Keep reading for ours.

On Friday, we dug a bit deeper (into Wikipedia) and discovered that the potato has not always had such a big fan club. When the measly potato was first introduced to France in the late 1500s, it whipped up plenty of controversy. Officials accused the potato of causing rampant sexuality, leprosy, syphilis, and an early death. Perceptions started to shift in the late 1700s when a French military chemist, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, won a contest. To find a food capable of reducing the terrible effects of famine. The measly potato wasn’t so measly anymore. It was nutritious. It was robust. It was versatile.

Turns out the potato is not a bad metaphor. Because our business model is predicated on taking a product – the story – and enabling folks to see how nutritious, robust, and versatile it really can be.

Unlike the potato way back when, stories have swagger. They are a trend. Journalists are reviving the long-form story. Marketers are curating stories across multiple platforms. Users are documenting their own stories.

We’re wanting to introduce a new story form. Stories that are both analytic and generative. That describe people’s current realities. Contrasted with people’s ideals. Intercut with multiple perspectives. And where the ending is a series of what ifs. What if…. we tweaked this interaction, took out that interaction, added another interaction. Be it at an individual, interpersonal, organizational, or systems level.

For us, stories are the smallest constituent part. Of longer-term change work. They are what give voice to groups of people left out, on the margins, experiencing crap outcomes. They are what give us leverage to invite organizations & systems to the table. They are the raw material for developing new ideas. For prototyping. For embedding.

In this way, we see stories as part research, part professional development, part service design, part policy design, part evaluation.

We spent a lot of our week designing our offers. Around the story. How could we use one-off stories to surface gaps and disconnects? How could we use sets of stories (what we’re calling starter projects) to build momentum for full projects in multiple neighborhoods? How could we create apprenticeships and immersive home stays as part of collecting and producing stories?

We revised our strategy document two times – using the Monitor Institute’s framework. What is our vision and theory of change? Where will we play? How will we succeed? What capabilities will we need? You can read the introduction to our strategy Here.

We also revised our business model two times – using a good ‘ol Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Rather than cost ourselves as a service (with an hourly or daily consultancy rate), we’re costing ourselves by our products. We’ll post some of our numbers and assumptions soon.

And, we revisited our Partnership Agreement. We’re developing a set of decision-making criteria for how we determine the work we take on, how we communicate, how we give and get feedback, how we resolve conflicts. We’ll also post a copy of this once we clean up our first iteration.

All of these revisions required a shift in my own behavior. Ceding some control. Quite literally. Here’s me signing over the bank account to Jonas and Yani. And with that, really allowing my fellow partners to put their own selves into the start-up. Which means trusting we share a common vision. Even if we have different styles and ways of getting there.

Luckily, it’s not just the partners joining the vision. We’ve also got 6 more folks signed-up this week. Wilma and Sena, two women at the Shelter, want to be involved in re-making their experience. Three of the workers at the shelter have overcome their initial skepticism, and are coming into the project team. And Ben Weinlick, who runs the Think Jar Collective from Edmonton, Canada, will (hopefully) come spend some time with our team in Vancouver. We’ve got heaps to learn from each other.

So if you add up all the commotion of the week, here are our numbers:

-1 new behavior adopted

-3 practices revised

-0 new stories shared

-1 paradigm poked

-6 people joining-in

What would your numbers be?