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Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed [Hardcover]

Frances Westley , Brenda Zimmerman , Michael Patton
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 5 2006
A practical, inspirational, revolutionary guide to social innovation

Many of us have a deep desire to make the world around us a better place. But often our good intentions are undermined by the fear that we are so insignificant in the big scheme of things that nothing we can do will actually help feed the world’s hungry, fix the damage of a Hurricane Katrina or even get a healthy lunch program up and running in the local school. We tend to think that great social change is the province of heroes – an intimidating view of reality that keeps ordinary people on the couch. But extraordinary leaders such as Gandhi and even unlikely social activists such as Bob Geldof most often see themselves as harnessing the forces around them, rather than singlehandedly setting those forces in motion. The trick in any great social project – from the global fight against AIDS to working to eradicate poverty in a single Canadian city – is to stop looking at the discrete elements and start trying to understand the complex relationships between them. By studying fascinating real-life examples of social change through this systems-and-relationships lens, the authors of Getting to Maybe tease out the rules of engagement between volunteers, leaders, organizations and circumstance – between individuals and what Shakespeare called “the tide in the affairs of men.”

Getting to Maybe applies the insights of complexity theory and harvests the experiences of a wide range of people and organizations – including the ministers behind the Boston Miracle (and its aftermath); the Grameen Bank, in which one man’s dream of micro-credit sparked a financial revolution for the world’s poor; the efforts of a Canadian clothing designer to help transform the lives of aboriginal women and children; and many more – to lay out a brand new way of thinking about making change in communities, in business, and in the world.

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Getting to Maybe addresses making big, significant change actually happen. It is thoughtful, insightful, sobering and inspirational. The ideas articulated are new and practical. Anyone from the business, government or not-for-profit world who wants to understand change better, and change the way things are, should read this book.”
—Courtney Pratt, chairman of Stelco


From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

Frances Westley has published widely in the areas of strategic change and visionary leadership, and led the Dupont Canada—fostered think-tank on social innovation, based at McGill University’s Desautel Faculty of Management, where many of the ideas for this book were developed.

Brenda Zimmerman, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, has been studying and writing about how complexity theory applies to organizations for twenty years.

Michael Quinn Patton is an independent organizational development consultant and has written five major books on the art and science of program evaluation.

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5.0 out of 5 stars AWEsOME BooK April 10 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I seriously have run out of things to write on my product reviews. This book honestly is a great book and I would recommend anyone to read it for ideas and inspiration to becoming or getting support as a social innovator.

Packaged well and arrived in great time. Go Amazon
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Book - Inspiring and Practical Aug. 19 2008
Format:Paperback
You cannot read this book without marking up the margins of each page with your own creative ideas that springboard from the authors insights. This book draws the reader into a whole new paradigm of social innovation and organizational leadership.

It creates a healthy dissatisfaction in the reader which compels you to rethink your current values, strategies and approaches and think creatively about your organization. This book is strong affirmation for those individuals and organizations who believe that there can & should be a more "natural" and "organic" way of conducting business and service than we are currently investing.

Validing thinking, creativity, the power of self-organization, and the hope that motivates and captivates all social entrepreneurs are common themes throughout this book. A difficult read for linear and pragmatic thinkers but one that creates a vibrant balance between purpose and praxis. Worth every penny!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary thinking Feb. 18 2009
Format:Paperback
I love the way this book challenges my thinking, and helps me move beyond my strategic processes to make a difference in the real and complex world. Everyone leading a nonprofit or government organization, whether board or staff, should read this book; learn to identify complex issues, and gain the tools and mindset to truly cope with that complexity. The results might amaze us!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
An extraordinary book. The authors' research, covering a diverse array of social innovation cases from the Boston Miracle to the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network, teases out some crucial common threads. And interestingly enough for the Web 2.0 crowd, a lot of them run close and parallel to the world of the social web.

What sets this book apart from similar works is its seamless connection between a high-level examination of how chaos theory applies to social change, and practical, hands-on advice to would-be innovators and those who want to support them. It's that rare work that succeeds both in inspiring the reader, and providing a solid framework of theory and evidence to ground that inspiration in the real world.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Maybe or Maybe not Aug. 23 2011
By James Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I'm a little surprised that all the reviews of this book Getting to Maybe are so overwhelmingly positive. To be sure, I thought it was a fun book to read--used it a couple of times in a grad program. The authors provide great examples and the book is overall well-written and designed. Working for an NGO I find it helpful to get different perspectives on change-thinking and social innovation. In the context of my organizational work I regularly advice people to read this book. That's the good part.

What I'm not so happy with is the dogmatic philosophical stance of the authors on Complexity Science. It permeates everything they write. Life is completely unpredictable it seems. (If you believe this, please, don't board a plane again. The science behind flying is based on predictability.) Admitted, there is some truth to that--life is at time hard to predict--but to absolutize that observation is what bothers me about the book. It undermines the credibility of this otherwise wonderful contribution to social change. (Took one star off for that.)

What bothers me most about the book is that the authors in their convictions of complexity science have a chip on their shoulder about funders and logic frameworks for planning (read: results-based management). I bet you they have had some bad experiences with funders... and obviously are having difficulty dealing with it a little more maturely. Here is an example (from page 170):
Social innovators offer visions and dreams. Funders and the evaluators they often hire want concrete, clear, specific and measurable goals. They also want to know step by step, in advance, how the goals will be attained, an approach doomed to failure in the complex and rapidly changing world in which social innovators attempt to work.

Wow, there you have a caricature! (Not a lot of reflective thinking went into that statement.) As if social innovators are the only ones who dream and funders and evaluators (I'm one of them--do it for free) don't. As if funders and evaluators and those who implement logic frameworks are purely mechanical, never flexible, never adjusting, oblivious to the fact that we live in an ever-changing environment. Many NGOs I know work with logic frameworks and they all are doomed to failure, if we are to believe the authors. (Took another star off for that.)

Anyway, go and buy the book and then download Splash and Ripple from Coyne & Cox for free (socially innovative idea, isn't it) to show that logic frameworks aren't as sterile and mechanical as Westley et al. make them out to be. Let one bias complement the other.

[...]
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Getting better all the time, maybe Nov. 5 2007
By C. Langston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I head about this book at the 10th Regenstrief Biennial conference on system transformation of healthcare in the United States. It was mentioned particularly by Paul Biondich and Burke Mamlin with regards to their work to create effective treatment for people with HIV/AIDS in Africa through an open source electronic medical record. (See more at [...])

The book essentially describes a Zen-Canadian approach to social change. Although loosely based on complexity theory (the one where a butterfly creates a hurricane), complexity theory is very complex, so I would have to say that it is very loosely based.

Reading its stories of how profound changes had occurred in social systems such as Muhammad Yunus' Grameen Bank and anti-poverty and anti-racist activists in Canada, it makes a case the change proceeds from a number of phenomena:

A deep and human level understanding of social ills nurtured over time which leads to tentative hypothesized solutions rather than a one-size-fits-all quick fix or a certain recipe.

A sense of being called to action in a way that almost makes taking action a non-decision for the change agent.

An openness to feedback in the problem solving work (a fair amount of time is spent pointing out the ultimate futility of structured plans given the complexity of the world.)

A willingness to confront the powerful - be that oneself, ones fears or other social stakeholders who may oppose change.

Of interest to me as program staff person at a medium sized US foundation, there is a fairly extensive discussion of the sins of philanthropy with regards to social change. We tend to require more specific objectives and reporting than is realistic given this model of change. We tend to over-evaluate our grantees in terms of these foolish metrics and quantifiable outputs rather than using methods of appreciative inquiry or developmental evaluation to understand the process. I get the sense that at least one of the authors is an evaluator and is tired of being hired to do the wrong thing.

Most moving to me were the observations that change is so very hard. Most social innovations fail in important ways. Even when they do succeed, that success is only temporary or limited - it can be reversed by changed circumstances or become a new baseline from which to aspire very quickly. Social innovators in this view face enormous challenges - they are fundamentally alone, necessarily always questioning everything, and doomed by the complexity of the world and human limitation. Is there such a thing as Zen-Existentialism?

There seems to me to be a lot of truth in these views. However, I have to say that these change agents' program officers are lousy. In addition to handing out checks and demanding unreasonable reports and evaluations, our major job is to support the grantees. No grantee should ever feel alone, if their program staff person knows what he or she is doing.

I still don't know what to make of this book. I look forward to seeing more reviews from others.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all those interested in change, innovation March 6 2011
By Lois Kelly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
In the movie Jerry Maguire, Renee Zellweger's character tells Tom Cruise that he had her at the first hello. Well, this warning to the book "Getting To Maybe: How the World is Changed" had be at the first page:

Warning: this book is not for heroes or saints or perfectionists. This book is for ordinary people who want to make connections that create extraordinary outcomes.

What riveted me to this book on social innovation were seven key things:
1. The authors fascinating yet easy to understand application of scientific complexity science as a way to understand social innovation.
2. The book's thorough research and presentation of patterns of social innovation
3. The compelling stories of diverse social innovators - what triggered them to start, how they navigated their journeys, and the shared patterns of those diverse journeys
4. The use of poetry to ground each chapter, counterbalancing the art of change with the science of systems change.
5. More thoughtful, original, and thought provoking insights than I usually find in a professional book.
6.Many, many practical ideas that I can see how to apply both to my professional organizational change management work and my responsibilities as a trustee on non-profit organizations.
7. How relevant it is in today's world with nations in the Middle East transforming and our school systems, unions, health care institutions and governments undergoing complex, profound and needed change.

I'm a voracious reader, and highly recommend this book for those involved in innovation, organizational change and social transformation, or for those who wonder and perhaps worry about how we can solve today's seemingly insolvable social issues.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy reflection on social transformation July 17 2011
By Paul Murray - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having a long career in monitoring and evaluation, the theme of this book is of personal interest to me. The concepts of complexity and changing landscapes in social transformation (especially international development) are fundamental. In this, the book does quite well to highlight and process these issues. The real life examples used are tangible and relevant, providing the reader with an ability to connect with the core themes the authors are trying to disseminate. For much (but not all) of the book, I was nodding in agreement with the various points being made.

With all the good of the book, there are two primary weaknesses. The first one is the book suffers from having three authors. The flow of the book (ironical, as flow is an important concept within the book itself), makes it difficult to read in places. There are more than a few times where it seems to jump between relatively unrelated concepts and discussions. One can only attribute this to the different authors writing different sections, and that the linking and editing between these sections has been weak. This tends to be more pronounced in the `recommendations' sections at the end of each chapter where the flow is not as smooth as it could be - just at the place where one would expect it to flow the best.

The second main weakness is a philosophical one. The book, at times, seems to be a veiled promotion of a specific evaluation methodology developed by one of the authors (Patton) - called `Developmental Evaluation'. For all the benefits of developmental evaluation, the framing that this as `new' or `profound' is an embellishment. The reality is that developmental evaluation is no more than adaptive monitoring - just with a fancy name. (Sadly, the term `evaluation' is seen by many as being 'sexier' - and, therefore, must be more important than boring old monitoring). In my experiences, the importance of `monitoring' is a critical component in any understanding of complexity and changing landscapes. After all, one cannot run (evaluate) before they can walk (monitor). A number of the 'issues' raised in various examples within the book, could have been solved with an active approach to organisational (or personal) monitoring.

Overall, however, the book is a worthy contribution to the discussion of social transformation. Not only should this book be on the bookcase of social and development workers - it should also be on the bookcase of those funding social transformation - and probably more so. It is essential for funders to know that transformation is always about maybe - and rarely about certainty. It should challenge them.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars very inspiring Dec 26 2010
By Emmanuel Raufflet - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a must read for anyone interested in /committed to social change and social innovation. It is very insightful, very well written, theoretically solid, practical and inspiring.
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