Today is our 20th birthday! It’s hard to believe. When I started Dynamic4 20 years ago, I had no preconceived ideas on what it should look like long term – just that it would adapt and evolve to be my dynamic solution for the future – and some awesome people would come along to enjoy parts of the journey. It’s definitely done that. And that’s all I look to it for as I cast forward now.
Yesterday, I reflected on the first 20 years – the different phases we’ve been through, some highlights of the past few years, and teased that we’ve transitioned to Dynamic4 version 8.0. I promised I’d share what that means. What we’re focusing on, what we’re stopping, how I made the decision, and why.
October 2021-…: Dynamic4 v8.0
So, what is Dynamic4 v8.0? It’s a new phase and a sharpening of focus. In reality it’s mostly about creating more space for where our primary focus has been for a while. Our purpose, vision, the outcomes we help create, and the impacts we contribute to… they’re still all the same. Check out our 2020 Impact Report. The new report will be out next month.
There’re just some refinements to what we do – and how we do it.
We’re still very much about design and innovation for happier communities… and helping create the conditions for people and communities to be more empowered and inclusive, and live in more sustainable ways.
Organisations and leaders solve problems that matter in more empathic and innovative ways – and measure success in outcomes for people, our planet, and prosperity.
People and communities have increasing quality of life, are happier, and live on a planet that is cleaner and healthier.
Dynamic4’s Theory of Change
Dynamic4’s theory of change in simplest terms is:
If businesses and leaders solve problems that matter in more empathic and innovative ways and measure success not just in profit – but equally in outcomes for people and our planet…
Then people will have increasing quality of life, be happier, and live on a planet that is cleaner and healthier.
The impacts we contribute to are:
- happier, healthier, more empathic, and feel connected to their communities and nature
- value diversity, being included and inclusive
- feel in control of their lives: strong, resilient, and adaptable
- a fair and inclusive economy with opportunities for decent and meaningful work
- our planet (land, water, air, nature) is cleaner and healthier
The outcomes we help create are:
- Social enterprise and purpose-driven organisations move forward with more confidence based on evidence, insight, and empathy to deliver sustainable impact
- Business decisions are made with more empathy, focused on solving problems that matter, and create real value for people and our planet – alongside profit
- People who are happier and healthier, more empathic and inclusive, connected to nature, and feel in control of their lives
We primarily align our work with five SDGs.
What We Do
What do we actually do? This is where the refinement comes in. For years, we’ve been playing three key roles to deliver on our theory of change. Our focus has now sharpened to just two.
- Coaching & advice
Digital design & build
- Ecosystem builder
In practice this is the core set of things we offer:
Coaching & Advice. Help leaders solve problems that matter in more empathic and innovative ways
Virtual CTO/CPO. Coach and advise non-tech founders on digital solutions that deliver and scale impact
Dynamic4 Jetpack. Incubator program for early-stage social enterprise ideas
Leadership, HCD & Innovation Programs. Work on real problems that matter and learn through doing
Innovation Sprints & Masterclasses. Workshops and coaching at the intersect of design thinking and social entrepreneurship
Connect & Build. Invest in the social enterprise, B Corp, and design ecosystems
Solve Problems That Matter
The new addition that complements all of these things is Solve Problems That Matter – my book which launches this month. I might’ve mentioned it 😄. This is a 90-day program helping you take a human-centred approach to design, build, and launch your social enterprise idea – and build momentum to solve problems that matter.
If you’re just starting work on your idea, been going for years but not making the progress you want, or designing and building a new product within an established organisation. This book is for you. Innovation never stops.
The prelaunch offer will be live over the weekend. In the meantime, you can put your name on the pre-order list.
$80 $49 (+shipping) for the print, PDF & ebook bundle… which means you get the PDF & ebook formats for free. The ebook will be first, then the PDF, and then the print books should be here November.
We’ve always had a strong focus on collaboration rather than building a large team. For now, I’ve trimmed Dynamic4 down to flying solo again – with a group of awesome collaborators. Values aligned strategic partners we’ve had the pleasure of working with for years – who are also B Corps and/or social enterprises. These include Sefa, StartSomeGood, the Sponge, and more. Btw, it’s not a prerequisite that our collaborators are organisations starting with “s” 😄.
Got something mutually beneficial that aligns with Dynamic4’s purpose and theory of change that you’re keen to collaborate on? I’d love to have a chat…
What We’ve Stopped
Strategy is as much about making decisions on what you won’t do – as it is working out what you will do. Over the years, I’ve got better at making the tough decisions on when to stop doing some things and saying no thanks.
I also love Jim Collins’ hedgehog concept from Good to Great. Finding the thing that you can be the best in the world at and focusing on that. That means I need to create space to sharpen that focus.
The tough decision I’ve made is we aren’t doing digital design and build anymore. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, digital has been core to what we’ve done since day one. This has refined over time though, and over the past few years we’ve only taken on digital projects focused on designing and building MVPs that deliver and scale impact – and then help transition to an in-house team when the client is ready.
With a focus on designing and building MVPs for impact, we’ve mostly been working with social enterprise startups in the very early stages. Which I love.
The bigger challenge at this stage is working out what to design and build, and testing the business model. This is the challenge I think we’re better at helping with – and where we can help create more meaningful value. During most of my “sales conversations” with potential clients, I was actually trying to talk them out of investing much, if anything in tech – yet.
The world has changed, and in a lot of cases it makes more sense to use interactive prototypes and no/low code tools to test your thinking on your digital product – rather than building functional MVPs. This has become increasingly commoditised and democratised, which I think is an awesome thing. It also means we can’t provide the same level of value and impact here that we used to.
I know this doesn’t need to be an either/or situation, but when you’ve got a hammer… you still tend to see too many things as a nail. I’ve taken this hammer out of the mix with this decision.
Another aspect is I want to reduce and simplify our risk profile. There are a couple of parts to this. Designing and building MVPs for a fixed price on very small budgets is an extreme risk, normally for no financial premium on that risk – and an uncapped downside. On a rational basis, that’s a pretty dumb thing to do.
The other part in simplifying our risk profile is operations. We’ve managed the platforms for all of our digital clients – all the devops to keep the lights on and the platforms secure. There’s a lot to that. There are constant threats and a lapse in devops process can have catastrophic consequences. I’m toward the paranoid end of the spectrum when it comes to service management process – a product of decades architecting service models in highly sensitive environments like banks. We had a good but small team handling this, but it was still on me. I’ve been on call 24/7 for many years, which meant I could never fully unplug – even on holiday. Not having accountability for anyone else’s ops anymore felt like something in my mind could now take a break and rest… a background weight I didn’t fully appreciate until it had been removed.
I still love digital and believe there’s a huge opportunity to leverage tech to deliver and scale impact. I just don’t think we’re the right people to be doing the digital design and build anymore. So we’ve stopped.
Digital is still core to my identity (I’m the Digital Brickie) and I’ve been playing in this space for almost three decades. I love all the possibilities.
So, it’s a refocusing of our relationship with digital – rather than a breakup. The time I personally spend on digital has swung much more to strategic design and advice over the past few years. I still do a bit of UX research, UI design, and prototyping… but this will take a different flavour now – much more oriented around coaching and capacity building.
As I mentioned, I’ll continue working with clients as their virtual CTO/CPO or tech adviser – because this is more about coaching and something I really love – and I know I add long-lasting meaningful value playing this role.
What I’ve Learnt
Dynamic4 has always been designed to be a lifestyle business. I’ve never had ambitions for it to get big and dominate. That’s not how I see things. It doesn’t interest me. I believe there’s more value in doing things alongside people, and I get more fulfilment from helping them get to the point where they don’t need me (or us) anymore. I don’t like being out front. I like being the drummer in the band, helping keep the rhythm and giving it direction.
As I mentioned in my Purpose & Happiness post, I founded Dynamic4 on a core principle of freedom and flexibility. Over the years our purpose has evolved – still holding true to the core principle of freedom but finding ways to embed more impact into our model and focus our energy to align with our theory of change.
Our purpose, along with our four guiding principles that I wrote out over a decade ago (People First, Positive Impact, Perspective & Context, and Dynamic & Adaptable) – have served us well to filter options and make decisions. I feel they’re broad enough to encompass the different situations we face, and tangible enough that I can use them to make choices and guide daily behaviours. I also use them as part of regular reflection to see where I can do things better, to be even more aligned, and continuing to improve.
Our theory of change, strategy, and focus iterates and evolves over time. Responding and adapting to change. Changes in the context, macro-trends, and within me. Where I feel we can provide the most meaningful value to deliver on our purpose.
Over time I observed the key factors I weigh up when deciding on the work we’d take on and where to focus… and it consistently comes back to these four, generally in this order:
- Impact (does it align with our purpose, theory of change, and strategy?)
- Enjoyment & lifestyle (is this how I/the team want to spend our time?)
- Right fit (are we good at it?)
- Financial performance & risk (does the revenue, cost, and margin vs risk stack up?)
When these things line up, it tends to feel easy and enjoyable. When they don’t, it feels like a slog, the risk profile ends up skewed, and invariably the financials suffer too. This is normally the result of ignoring red flags and not trusting my gut. I’ve got better over the years of saying we’re not the right people to be doing some things.
Finally, in coaching conversations I often ask people to reflect on how they want to spend their time – now and over the next few years… and what gives them energy. I ask myself these same questions as part of regular reflection. Part of this is observing what gives me energy – even though it might be challenging… and I also look at what isn’t giving me energy or is leaving me feeling drained – even though it might be easy. Where there are sustained patterns, I adjust to work with my energy.
Sharing Our Story
I’m working on simplifying our story and how I describe what we do. I feel I’ve got better at articulating our purpose and what we care about over the past few years – but trying to outline a simple version of what we do has been a real challenge because of the breadth we’ve been covering.
Describing what we do gets a lot easier without the digital side of the business. In effect, I’ve been trying to share the story of two businesses simultaneously – which has always felt clunky. I’ve trimmed a few words and here’s the version I’m currently experimenting with.
“Dynamic4 is a social enterprise and B Corp focused on design and innovation for happier communities. We coach leaders to solve problems that matter.”
There’re so many other words I’d love to add to try to make sure people know what I mean – and it doesn’t get specific on how we do it, but I’m resisting making it more verbose.
I’m also working on making it really clear who we can help, how, and at what price points. These are things to focus on and refine the website once the book is finalised!
The success I’ve had comes from loving what I do, being open to opportunities, and saying yes – not only to others when invited but to my own curiosity and interests. I’m always learning and experimenting. There’s an interesting tension here with focus – learning to say no and being more selective. An ongoing experiment…
Just because I’m often working on very serious things, doesn’t mean I need to be serious. I’ve found that I’m better when I’m playful… and the people around me are too.
Purpose and happiness are actions and practice… not a static state or destination. They are things for us to create and do for ourselves. It’s worth the time to reflect on what motivates us, what we get energy from, our driving why – but don’t expect it to be absolute and unchanging.
There’s no such thing as “work life”… it’s all one life and we spend a lot of it working – so it makes sense to find ways to spend this time on things we find meaningful and create a positive impact.
Planning is valuable… but often the plan isn’t. The thinking and conversations involved in planning the future we’re working toward and how to make it happen is where the real value is. Understanding different perspectives and expectations, making assumptions explicit, building a collective, taking the time to get clarity on intent and direction… these are the things that set us up for success.
Finding the right level of structure that’s not too rigid but provides enough certainty normally takes some experimentation… but when you find it and it becomes part of your workflow, you’ll be amazed at how much freedom it provides. The interesting juxtaposition of freedom through structure.
As Brene Brown says… it’s all about belonging and connection.
“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. What we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is neurobiologically how we’re wired – it’s why we’re here.”Brené Brown
I have nothing to add.
Positive impact is a team sport. We don’t need heropreneurs, we need connected and collaborative ecosystems. Daniela Papi-Thornton talked about this in her great 2016 article Tackling Heropreneurship in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
It’s important to find your community and collaborate. Communities I love being part of include B Corp, B Local Sydney, B Corp Climate Collective, SECNA, Catalyst 2030, Sydney Design Thinking, Spark Festival, and more… Let’s hang out.
I find being mindful, meditating, and other happiness habits are key to helping me keep my sense of perspective. Part of this is regular reflection, including recognising and celebrating the wins – as they happen. As Shawn Achor talks about, there’s always more to be done and it can be easy to fixate on the next thing – pushing happiness over the cognitive horizon as we chase success… I keep working on my happiness habits with the knowledge that success follows happiness. It feels good and is key to me sustaining a healthy headspace.
I do my best to work with my energy levels. It’s not always possible and sometimes I just need to put on my game face, transform my energy and make stuff happen… but most of the time I try to listen to the ebbs and flow and work with it. Observing and leveraging temporal landmarks, my chronotype, and biological rhythms.
Contexts and perspectives are always changing. We live within adaptive systems full of adaptive challenges. To thrive, we always need to be adapting to the dynamic nature of life. Identifying trends and anticipating the likely change gives me more time to respond positively.
When adapting, it’s still really important to leverage the strengths and assets I already have, and continually be building new ones. Recognising how my skills and experience can be applied in new and changing contexts. A regular rhythm of iterating keeps you nimble.
As I close this blog series reflecting on 20 years of Dynamic4, the main thing I’ve learnt – and keep learning, is that everyone is making it up as they go. There’s no master plan.
I think the best we can do is always start with building empathy with people to keep our focus on making a positive impact. To do this, we need to actively create our purpose – not be on an endless search for it or wait for it to be revealed. Building daily happiness habits helps us be in a healthy headspace which makes all of this much easier and helps us adapt and respond positively to change.
Most of all… be curious and have fun!