Category Archives: Where to begin

Coming up with an idea is not easy. This section provides guidance on brainstorming and creative thinking.

Taking Action on Urban Issues with The Great Neighborhood Book

“You’ll be surprised what can be accomplished if you are willing to think big about your little place in the world.”
– Why changing the world one place at a time can lead to big things in The Great Neighorhood Book

The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by Jay Walljasper and Project for Public Spaces
New Society Publishers, 2011, 192 pages, $19.95 USD

A joint venture between Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and Senior PPS Fellow Jay Walljasper, The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking highlights the possibilities of placemaking by using the success stories of everyday people that can inspire you to do similar things in your own communities.

The PPS is a nonprofit dedicated to creating and sustaining public spaces that build communities and placemaking is something they see as both a philosophy and a process. Architects and planners started to use the term in the 1970s but the concepts originated in the 1960s when writers offered their ideas about designing cities that truly catered to people, not just to cars and malls.

The Great Neighorhood Book is definitely meant to be used as a guide, since it is fairly structured so as to walk you through easily the first time and then continue to come back when you need to refer to a certain idea or section. The table of contents gives a great overview for anyone who’s unsure what placemaking could entail:

  1. Feeling Right at Home: How to foster a sense of community
  2. Where Everybody Knows Your Name: How to create great places to hang out
  3. Going Places: How to tame traffic and improve transportation
  4. Keeping Peace in the Streets: How to assure safety and promote justice
  5. Where the Action Is: How to boost local economic vitality
  6. Greening the Neighborhood: How to keep things clean, green and natural
  7. Pride in Your Place: How to nurture pleasure and pizzazz
  8. Getting Things Done: How to make your dreams a reality

After a preface giving the author’s experience with placemaking and an introduction by PPS about changing the world one place at a time, each chapter begins with a list of the suggested actions and challenges, as shown here:

The Great Neighborhood Book

Context is often provided with each suggested initiative with a background on where it came from and/or a quick example or two to go with it and some ideas are also then accompanied by longer success stories. Since these ideas are not very detailed in the guide, every initiative is followed by one or two resources, most of which are available online so that you can further your understanding and think about action.

I had picked up The Great Neighorhood Book the summer after I had finished my bachelors in urban planning and though I haven’t acted on any of these suggestions myself, it was a very inspirational read since these were real people doing real things to make change in their communities. It did leave me with a greater sense of placemaking which influenced my work thereafter. Revisiting the book to write this recommendation, I find the eleven principles of placemaking still resonate with me and have become almost second nature now and add to my perspectives on social change (like #1: the community is the expert).

I recommend The Great Neighorhood Book to anyone looking to create social change in their communities and need ideas – particularly if there is an actual issue in the community you feel needs to be acted upon. This book can serve as inspiration or a guide, while introducing you to placemaking. I also suggest looking at the PPS website for more, since this book is just an introduction to what they do.

Conclusively, though this book is not a how-to book on all things placemaking, it serves like a Pinterest board to give you the ideas and inspiration you need to fuel yourself to take action. It’s especially worth the read for people who see issues and want to take action in their own neighborhoods.

Written by Zainab Habib

12 Things that Successfully Convert a Great Idea into a Reality

If you have a great idea in your mind and wish to convert the same into a reality, then the steps given below will prove to be of great help to you. The very first thing is to have belief and confidence in your thought as well as actions. Next important thing is to have an expert advice from experienced people. Taking calculated risks and keeping the patience also helps to convert your idea into reality.

One must also try to win over their clients through their promising as well as innovative solutions and also extend their business as well as horizon. Not losing the heart and focussing on the goal also proves to be of great help. Next, one must gain the pace while expanding and also refine their ideas so as to improve them. Finally keeping balance between work and life and creating the heritage in the process helps to convert your ideas into reality.

If you wish to excel as an entrepreneur then you should follow the 5 golden rules which include being inquisitive and asking questions, moving in the action from the solutions, setting up targets that are achievable within a given time frame, maintaining a pool of creative inner circle and looking after the vision, mission and values of the organisation.

12 Things that Successfully Convert a Great Idea into a Reality

Created by Sample Questionnaire
Retrieved from 12 Things that Successfully Convert a Great Idea into a Reality (Infographic)

Social Enterprises: Starting and Business Planning

Where to Start

Moving into a new sphere of funding can be a daunting task. It’s important to remember that this new area is not necessarily right for every organization, and that “traditional” forms of grantmaking and contracting remain a very important part of the funding landscape— and one of the largest sources of capital for social enterprises and other social purpose organizations.

The most logical place to start is to have a discussion amongst your team and advisors about whether social investment is right for your organization. There are some basic first questions to ask:

  1. Is your organization constrained by current funding sources? Is your funding constraining your ability to implement a long-term vision?
  2. Is your current grant funding meeting your needs in terms of size, level of engagement, or business thinking?
  3. Do you have a clear strategy for where you want to be and how you are going to get there? Does this strategy require significant growth?
  4. Are you able to present a compelling, business-focused plan to potential investors?
  5. Is your organization looking for strategic advice in the form of a more highly engaged relationship with funders?
  6. Is your organization planning to grow into a phase where you have a financial return to offer?
Business planning

Business plans for social investors differ significantly from grant proposals. While grant proposal are almost entirely fundraising documents, business plans should be internal management tools first, and fundraising tools second. They should allow managers to plan strategy, assess risk, understand markets, and understand potential financial outcomes. The approach taken by social investors mirrors the primary purpose of business plans. These funders take a more open-ended, less time-limited approach to funding. Their analyses are market-driven and focused on results. They expect social enterprises to prove that they have a viable opportunity and the capacity to seize that opportunity. Social investors put emphasis on the quality of business plans because these documents can shed light on the quality of the entrepreneurs and their ability to apply business thinking to social problems.

In a business plan, language matters. Social investors coming from a finance background (as is the case with investors seeking financial returns, and many venture philanthropists) are likely to be unfamiliar and uncomfortable with traditional development language. Their comfort zone is in the realm of business thinking, including strategy, market analysis, execution, risk, and return. On the other hand, social investors on the grant and high social impact side are likely to be comfortable with traditional development and social impact terminology. Language that communicates business thinking, financial accuracy, and organizational strategy will still remain important, but long-term impact, empowerment, and shifts in value chains and systems will also be among the key messages social enterprises need to communicate.

Adapted from the article Introduction to Understanding and Accessing Social Investment: A Brief Guide for Social Entrepreneurs and Development Practitioners

The Leap by Rick Smith

Have you ever asked yourself, “Is this it?”
– From The Leap

The Leap by Rick Smith
Portfolio, 2009, 224 pages, $23.37 CDN

The Leap by Rick Smith is about you reflecting on finding your sweet spot in your career as he examines the commonalities among individuals who have drastically changed the course of their careers from ordinary to exceptional and how you can take the leap too. This book will not provide a breakdown of your personality type or characteristics or any obvious solutions; however, you will be able to see how others have taken this leap so far.

Once you understand where your sweet spot is, you can make “the leap”. However, the leap is not one drastic jump. Rather, it is a series of smaller, incremental changes and “aha!” moments with the help of others while mitigating risk to align where you are now to where you want to be in such a way that when you jump, it’s a much shorter distance. After outlining his experience making that leap in the first chapter after he had been fired from his job as a head-hunter, Smith discusses the three myths about making a great change in your life and how they keep people stuck in the status quo because they feel too overwhelmed with the idea of going about it. He then outlines the reality behind people who make the leap: they become more completely themselves, they are carried to success on the shoulders of others, and they are keen risk mitigators who manage their risk slowly but steadily.

So how do you actually do this? To break away, or to make the leap, he suggests these three rules:

  1. To make the leap, first find your primary colour.
  2. Once you find your primary colour, bring it to bear on an idea that is big, selfless, and simple.
  3. Let the spark sequence – a series of low-danger, exploratory events – happen.

I believe The Leap is useful for anyone, but it is most relevant to one who is at that juncture in their lives where they feel they haven’t hit that sweet spot just yet. However, if you have, it can still serve as a good tool for reflection, as it did for many of the examples in the book. I was transitioning into my full-time role at SoJo, so I experienced both sides of the equation as I was reading this book.

I felt inspired when reading The Leap, both during and after I had finished reading the book. What got me hooked was that he advocates for the right to just be you, not to morph into what you are not. Instead of looking at your deficiencies, you are forced to think about your assets, which I feel many of us forget to do. That leaves many of us wondering if we are capable of creating any impact, instead of focussing on our efforts on just trying to do it.

If you’re ready to take the leap to the next step, then this is the book for you. Combined with the test and free resources online, The Leap is a great place to start thinking about how you can catapult yourself from good to great.

Written by Zainab Habib

How to Launch Any Idea In Minutes

I’ve been fortunate to have founded two companies. My first, a media publishing company dedicated to young professionals, won me the recognition by BusinessWeek Magazine as one of “America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs.” My second and current startup, Sumazi, was recognized by the Omidyar Network as the “Startup Most Likely to Change the World,” among other accolades.

Both ideas were launched in fewer than five minutes.

To be clear, there’s a very big difference between launching an idea and launching a startup. But I find the first five minutes is infinitely more difficult than the latter, and here’s why: the hardest part is not the dreaming up of the idea. The hardest part is the acting, the doing something about the idea. More often than not, I find that people sit on great ideas and don’t know how to get started. Here’s what I did to launch my ideas:

Step 1: Get it out of your head

What you’ll need: Napkin, pen and two minutes.

Take action: Draw (or write) your idea, a few things you think you’ll need (regardless of if you know for sure or not) and what you think success would look like if you could achieve it.

What you’ve accomplished: Your idea is no longer in your head. It’s physical, written down, and was thought about out loud. If you’re truly excited about your idea, your napkin will most likely get filled up with more and more notes.

Step 2: Cultivate accountability

What you’ll need: Computer, email addresses of at least 10 close people in your network, guts and two minutes.

Take action: Send an email to 10 of the closest people in your network that asks for their thoughts on your idea. Be sure to include siblings, parents, roommates, close friends and mentors. You do not need to send them a business plan or anything formal. Keep the email short, in your own words and positive.

What you’ve accomplished: You’ve told the world (at least the people who matter to you most) and you now have some level of accountability. They now know you have an idea and will most likely ask you questions, give you advice and criticism — all of which are necessary to accelerate momentum around your idea.

Step 3: Create a support network

What you’ll need: Phone, the phone number for the person who can be your biggest supporter and one minute (but maybe more depending on who you call).

Take action: Call someone who’s a valuable member of your support network and let her/him know you have an idea you are going to be working on. Some people may end up being in both your accountability and support networks. Be strategic about who you reach out to for what role. Calling my mom was probably the hardest part in all of this. Luckily, I had her support early on, and she continues to follow up on the idea every time we catch up on the phone.

What you’ve accomplished by doing this and the steps above: The simple act of writing, sharing and talking about your idea is the magic of the launch. This may seem trivial or “too easy” but until you’ve done these steps you won’t know what you’ve accomplished.

These three steps helps you put your ideas in motion. It’s that motion that is literally the life force of any startup — big or small.

Written by Sumaya Kazi
Adapted from How To Launch A World-Changing Idea In 5 Minutes, published in Women 2.0

Advice to Get Started on Your Idea

My startup Ecobold is the “etsy” for natural, non-toxic and sustainable products. I always wanted to build a marketplace where people could find the best products for their health and that there were sellers making fantastic healthy and safe products. I’ll share five tips that I’ve learned while building Ecobold and how it all started.

1. It takes time to find the right co-founder.

It’s a problem that people think they’re the only ones going through, but it’s a common problem. It took me about 8 months to find mine. I met over 40 people and could have “settled” with 5 of them, but I knew it wouldn’t be the right fit. Also, when you think that you found someone, work with them for at least a month before settling into anything. It’s normal to take 6 months to a year to find the right co-founder.

Try this: Focus on meetups specific to where your ideal co-founder would be. If you’re building a gaming startup, try to find them at a gaming event or meetup. I’ve also seen a few founders post short term contract jobs on Craigslist. Once the contractor worked with them and started believing in the product and the person they’re working with, they became co-founders.

2. N-e-v-e-r give up.

This might sound cliché but it’s so true. I have had hundreds of things happen where I could have easily given up, but that’s not how any successful company deals with hurdles that will inevitably come your way. Ecobold was supposed to be a marketplace from the get go, but after months looking for a co-founder, I realized that finding one wouldn’t be easy. I cried for one night, then thought about how I could do this on my own. I decided to start doing video reviews of the products. I paid someone $200 to build a WordPress site, found a guy who had a camera and wanted to edit videos as practice, asked some companies if they wanted to send me samples, and got started from there.

After shooting about 20 videos over three weeks, the video guy said “whoops”. I said “oh no”. He had lost it all. So I bought my own camera, tripod, learned to edit videos and started doing my own videos. The site started getting some traction, manufacturers were now coming to me asking to be highlighted on the site, the Huffington Post wrote up a story, I pitched at the co-founder meetup, and finally found a co-founder.

Try this: When things are going wrong, take a break and think “How can we get over this?” instead of “Why is this happening to me again?” you’ll be amazed at the ideas you’ll come up with.

3. Welcome the opportunities that knock on your door.

Coming in to Hacker Dojo one day, (my now friend) Larry tells me “You’re here all the time, you should apply for Founder Institute, I will recommend you, the application is due tomorrow and you’re coming with me to the Founder Showcase tonight.” I said “Okay, that sounds great” (I had no idea what the program was, but it sounded important). I was travelling to China the next day at 8am, I hadn’t started packing and had a million things to do. I went to the showcase, Larry introduced me to Adeo Ressi and his wife Cindy, they said, “You should apply”. I spent the night applying and shooting my application video, finished it at 5am, packed my stuff and went to the airport. No excuses. I got accepted a few days later.

Try this: When someone asks if anyone has any announcements to make at the end of a meetup or event, always go say something. You will be shocked at the number of people who will remember you, who will come talk to you and the things that will come out of that simple move.

4. An incubator is a must.

After graduating from the Founder Institute, I highly recommend that anyone serious about their startup joins an incubator. You will learn what you’d learn by going through multiple startups. You will also meet fantastic mentors and have a great network of entrepreneurs going through the same things you’re going through. I warn you that this is not for everyone: it’s a lot of work. But as they say, it’s nothing harder than running your own company!

5. Being a woman doesn’t make a difference.

Once someone asked Kim Polese if she has ever felt that there were problems or discrimination throughout her career because she was a woman. She said something like, “As long as you do your work, you won’t have any problems”. I agree with her 100%.

Written by Steffany Boldrini
Adapted from 5 Startup Lessons Learned from EcoBold, published in Women 2.0

Image courtesy of Idea go /

Ways to Move From Being an Intrapreneur to an Entrepreneur

The cool thing about being an intrapreneur is you still get a paycheck as you build your innovation. When set up properly, you have the resources of the corporation to back you: their reputation, expertise, finances, and access to employees and customers.

Yet it is interesting to note that many intrapreneurs that become successful convert to entrepreneurs. Mainly because they then can do it all for themselves.

Working for the man? Want to create your own gig but want to keep in within the corporate structure?

First, make sure you understand your corporate culture. Are they conducive to intrapreneurial activities? If not, tread carefully and in stealth mode.

Quietly determine your product or service you feel is in alignment with your company’s vision:

  • Run the concept for viability. What is the user’s pain your product/service is solving?
  • What is the competition looking like? Barriers to entry? What are the numbers to launch and get it to break even?
  • Who will sponsor your product/service and vouch for you to the decision maker in your company? How do you get that person on board?

Assuming you have powerful answers to all these questions, you very well might have a winner.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted from Intrapreneur vs. Entrepreneur

Image courtesy of sdmania /

Ways to Implement a Bold New Idea

Organizations are in serious trouble when they are not taking on bold, new ideas. A product or service can work really well when it is first introduced. But if you become complacent, you most likely quickly will end up struggling.

We call these organizations “shooting stars”. And they are everywhere, especially now. So how does one break out of this dangerous predicament?

For it is your current thinking that has gotten you exactly where you are today. All fine and good, unless you’re not happy with where you are!

What if you think beyond “reason”? Into the realm of the UnReasonable — stretching yourself beyond what you thought possible?

If you do, there is a whole new world of possibilities awaiting you. And there is an important distinction: there is a difference between being UnReasonable and being unrealistic or irresponsible in creating your bold, new goal.

Six Steps For Implementing a Bold New Idea:

  • Ask powerful questions: When you want results to happen beyond what you normally see or expect, you must reframe your thinking. For example, instead of, “How can I make money this month?”, ask “What is the fastest way to generate $10K in the next six weeks?” Your brain goes to work answering that question instead.
  • Manage limiting beliefs: These may be your blind spots or you may be well aware of them. First, ask others who know you to help you determine what trips you up. For example, you feel you are not a “numbers person” and therefore cannot keep track of your organization’s finances. Next, determine workarounds or solutions to that belief.
  • Shake the cobwebs out: Often times we’re deep in our routine. And we cannot fathom breaking out of it to a better or more-efficient way of getting it accomplished. For example, you get a coffee and perform social media posts on Facebook and Twitter for two hours each morning. To break out, assess the impact of your actions to the original purpose for doing your routine.
  • Build a support team: This is crucial for really stretching yourself. It is easier for others to see our blind spots that we don’t see for ourselves. Create your team of like-minded, committed people that are “up to” serious things in their lives will and will move mountains for you. Or contact me and I’ll get you onto one of our teams.
  • Create your strategy: Break down your bold, new idea into the three top components. Take your support team and determine fresh and innovative ways to build a powerful set of solutions for achieving what it is you want to achieve. Build a plan around this.
  • Perform Risk Analysis: Compare the magnitude of the potential consequences to the probability it will happen. Break down your bold new direction into the possible risks involved. Assign potential consequences and probabilities to them. From there create a plan to hedge or protect yourself if you decide to pursue your new, bold idea.

In the end, it really does depend on your comfort with risk. True success, no matter how you define it, is directly correlated to your stomach to risk.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted from Avoiding the Risk: The Opposite of an Entrepreneur

Image courtesy of pakorn /

Be an Entrepreneur by Doing a Startup

To do a startup, you need to think very simplistically in many ways.

From what I have seen working with hundreds of startup founders, it is often those that stay “hungry and foolish,” as Steve jobs put it, that are able to find a solution to a problem people have and build a business out of it.

Entrepreneurship is more about the actions you take, not the person you are. If you take action, you are ahead of the vast majority of people, who talk about entrepreneurship, but never build anything.

Becoming an entrepreneur

entrepreneur, women 2.0

I hope this infographic inspires people to just do. Build. It doesn’t matter if you are an engineer or not. Anyone can make sense of WordPress. That can be your prototype. I have seen entrepreneurs who got funding even though they spoke poor English, had no degree, and no money for a business suit.

I hope you become unscared, and do a startup.

Written by Anna Vital
Adapted from Becoming An Entrepreneur, published by Women 2.0

Steps for Every Major Initiative

I once was asked to “provide a list of steps crucial to entrepreneurial success”. With entrepreneurship taking so many forms, and engaged in for so many different reasons, my initial reaction was that there are no universal steps to success every entrepreneur should take. Besides, the most widely respected entrepreneurs are renowned for their tendency to ignore what they’re told they “should” do.

However, while a universal list of “shoulds” doesn’t exist, my experiences have taught me there is a universal list of steps that will happen over and over again – whether you’re prepared for them or not. While I’m not someone who believes I have any right to tell people how they should chase their dreams, the value I believe I can add is to share this list of inevitable steps.

And so I humbly offer what my life has taught me are the five inevitable steps of every “life initiative”:

  1. The First Step: One of my favourite writers said, “I love to write, but I hate to start. There is nothing as intimidating as a blank page.” Perhaps we all share the belief that as long as we don’t take the first step, we put off the inevitable missteps. But on those days where you look at your bank account and think “If I’d put $100 a month away starting when I was 18, I’d have enough for a down payment on a house right now”; or, “If I’d just started running an extra half kilometer each week a year ago, I’d be doing a half marathon right now”, we’re reminded that failing to take the first step at all can be a bigger misstep than anything that comes after. Your life doesn’t change until you take the first step in a new direction.
  2. The Next Step: The first step may be hard, but it’s the next step that’s truly scary. It’s easy to turn back after the first step (ask anyone who has started a diet), but it’s that next step that truly commits you. If crafting your business idea or incorporating your business is the first step, the next step is that moment you walk away from working for someone else and truly become your own boss. If saying you’re “seeing someone” is the first step, that first mention of the word “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” is the next step. It’s at that moment that there’s no turning back.
  3. The Wrong Step: Once you decide to try to get somewhere, you will, at some point, try to go about doing so in a fashion that simply does not work. The wrong step might take you only a small distance down an ineffective path, or it might have you wander it for much longer. It’s important to recognize that the odds are you will not establish and grow your business, your personal relationships, or your path through life perfectly in one try. Feeling less about yourself because of that reality muddles your thinking and hampers your effectiveness by keeping you from realizing that the step outlined below is always available to you.
  4. The Step Back: Somewhere along the line we equated change with failure. We internalized the idea that to change our business plan, or our timelines, or our personal or professional partners meant that we had to admit to ourselves and everyone watching that we made a mistake with our initial decision. Business is an exploration. Life is an exploration—and true exploration isn’t possible without a willingness to embrace change. As long as you equate change with failure, you’re creating a roadblock to the acceptance of a crucial truth: sometimes the only way to avoid large mistakes is to acknowledge the small ones, and be willing to back up to a spot before you made a misstep.
  5. The New Step: In my mind, this is the most courageous of the steps. The moment after we back up—the moment when we’re looking around and figuring out “which way do I go now?”—we’re often at our most insecure. Our “wrong step” is still fresh in our minds, and it takes a tremendous amount of courage to step in a new direction when we know it could all happen again. However, it’s in this step that most of our dreams live or die. Too many people see themselves standing on the edge of a cliff in this moment. I have no problem with that imagery, but would argue that at that moment you aren’t facing the edge, but rather have your back to it. It’s with a stride forward that you’ll move towards safety. The real danger lies in backing up too far.

Every aspect of your life will feature iterations of this cycle: your professional life, your relationships, your health, and your education. Each of those aspects will likely have several of these cycles going at once. Don’t try to minimize them or shut them down – they’re a natural part of dynamic lives. Each step brings with it its own set of fears – a set of fears felt by everyone. We’re told not to show it however, and in doing so, we fail to offer the profound mutual support that comes from telling each other, “you’re not the only one.” These steps are inevitable, and embracing your journeys through them can be a key to success and happiness in business and life.

After all, it’s very rare that continuing to put one foot in front of the other doesn’t take you somewhere.

Written by Drew Dudley, Nuance Leadership
Adapted from 5 Steps for Every Major Initiative

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /