Monday, November 03, 2014

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 38 - Chris McGoff

Chris McGoff, Universe Denter
A visitor asked me recently how, in 2001 at the age of 40, I changed from a successful World Bank expert to an entrepreneur whose goal is to unleash the expertise of the "crowd."

I briefly recounted my story and referred them to my TED talk. But when my visitor left, I realized that I had failed to tell them about a profound influence on my transformation - someone from whom I learned things that I still use every day.

That someone was Chris McGoff.  Chris and his firm, GDSS, had been hired by the World Bank to work on high-level issues with senior management.  Chris helped us design a number of breakthrough approaches to strategy and change involving the president, managing directors, and vice presidents.

On the side, Chris also helped Mari and me design something that has had an even greater lasting impact - the Innovation and Development Marketplaces, which were the probably the first-ever global crowdsourced venture events for ideas related to international development and poverty reduction.  Unlike the work with senior management, Chris's work on the marketplaces was initially much lower profile, and given the long hours and startup-like environment, I am sure his firm barely broke even on the engagement with us.

One day, I asked Chris why he and his team were spending so much overtime helping us create something completely new and untested - something that could fail completely.

"Because," he said, "if it works, it will dent the universe.  And I think it is going to work."

He was right - the marketplaces did work, so well in fact that Mari and I left the Bank to launch GlobalGiving. which has now funded over 10,000 projects in 162 countries.  Just as important as the skills Chris taught me (you can read about them in his book, which I recommend), was the aspiration of denting the universe - in other words trying to do something that makes the world a better place.  Those words resonate still, including with a new initiative called Feedback Labs I have co-founded.

I do have one big regret.  As Mari and I were leaving the Bank, Gary Hamel and Robert Wood were writing an article for the Harvard Business Review about the Development Marketplace.  For editorial reasons, the authors wanted to keep the "cast of characters" short.  Mari and I were featured, but they left out Chris* , whose dent in the universe has rippled powerfully outwards over the past fifteen years.

Thank you, Chris.

*They also left out Monika Weber-Fahr, whose exceptional management of the day to day preparations was critical to success.
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