The work with no name. / by Flip Labs

There isn’t a name for what we do. We’ve tried to invent one over the past five years of doing this work. That hasn’t gone well. We’ve tried on “systems incubation” and “transformation design” and a few others. Most sound like a mouthful of sawdust and jargon that can’t capture the aliveness of what we do. I’ve likened our work to “social labs” and “collective impact” and other emerging buzz words that name approaches to solving big problems. None of them seems to fit quite right, and frankly, the conversation about how this work packages up neatly into a trendy new term is not the one I want to have. Nor is it the conversation we need to have.

The conversation we need to have isn’t slickly packaged. It’s not the post-journey, one-way download of an insightful TED talk where the lessons have already been learned and distilled to share. It isn’t a case study that’s infused with the wisdom of hindsight and the credibility of measured success. It can’t be those things yet— because we are still on the journey, immersed in the messiness. We are inventing new ways for disparate people and unlikely partners to work together to solve our biggest problems. The necessary conversation heads full-on into the messiness, without wasting time with the neatening up. It gets to the heart of what’s working and what isn’t, for the sake of doing better. And it needs to happen right now.

We need that conversation because this emergent field of practice is long on “systems thinking” and “systems theory” and short on “systems doing.” Because fellow practitioners doing this work are isolated and struggling, and nobody has figured out the “best” way to do this work.  So let’s be honest about that, and instead of stumping our respective approaches, let’s get busy helping all of the approaches evolve.

This conversation is for people who don’t need the certainty of hindsight to validate and de-risk their decisions. It’s for fellow experimenters who bring their own ideas and questions. I’ll get us started by sharing rough notes and early outcomes from Flip Labs’ experiments. I hope to attract others who, like me, lie awake at night worrying about how our planet is running out of time to get it right.

I began this journey as a journalist, writing about entrepreneurs who wanted to change the world for the better. My reporting and writing led to an obsession with patterns in the way big change comes about and the methods that humanity has at its disposal to intentionally provoke those changes. I felt I had seen some patterns I couldn’t un-see. And some of the things that seemed to need doing were things that I knew I could do. I’ve likened that epiphany to “finding a Cheryl-shaped hole” in the universe that I could fill.

Along the journey, my original ideas were augmented and re-shaped by the amazing team and partners who have joined me on the path. Thank god. Our work wouldn’t be half of what it is today without that collaboration. More of that, please. Flipbook is intended to mirror that journey: an intensely personal and unfiltered brain dump of ideas that serves as an invitation to join us in the conversation, and in this work.

Just don’t ask me to name it.