The Innovation Imperative

“Design Sprint” at BBYO Staff Conference, Jan. 2020

By Doug Winkelstein

2019 ended like most others, with New Year’s Eve parties, self-care resolutions, and a host of celebrations and milestones to look forward to. Personally, I was excited about my upcoming spring wedding and the start of a new role in BBYO. However, like most of us, I had no idea that 2020 was going to be the year that the world changed. A global pandemic mixed with deep-seated political divisions and a much-needed revolution for social justice change, left many of us with a sense of uncertainty for what the future would hold. Reflecting over the past few months, we’ve all had to handle this unprecedented situation by looking inward and reflecting on our personal and professional lives.  

When faced with uncertainty, the Jewish people have always known what to do to not only to make it through difficult times, but to emerge stronger than before: innovate. The necessity of innovation has always been a bright light to get us through a dark tunnel, and a way to come out with a positive perspective on our place in the world.     

Fortunately, we do innovation well at BBYO.  Our organization understands that in both good and challenging times, there will always be a need to rethink, refocus, and absorb the pulse of what’s happening in the world.  At our core, BBYO’s teen-led mission and way of doing business positions us to be innovative. Recently, we used the concept of innovation to create something we call “Mifgash,” meaning ‘meeting’ or ‘encounter,’ which is a new internal staff mentorship program. Like many of the things we do, this new initiative is filled with the type of energy our staff needs to make it through a tough time. At our annual Staff Conference this year, staff members participated in a Design Sprint, which led to the concept of Mifgash, by focusing on a few key concepts. 

1. CEOs are great but leave them out of this one.

CEOs are critical in creating a culture that supports and encourages innovation, but when you’re working in an organization that already embodies this value, it’s the people on the frontlines doing direct service who will have the most impact. They’ll know what’s working and what’s not. They’ll see what your most important stakeholders, in our case, teens, want and need.  By including the entire organization at every level of our Design Sprint, we were able to make sure that all voices were heard.  

2. When focusing on innovation the question is not, ‘How can we solve or improve on x’?’  but rather, “What do we need to solve or improve?”

By keeping the topic open, participants are free to identify and explore areas they think are most important, and not be restricted to only thinking about a designated topic. Our Design Sprint allowed for staff to be completely creative and brainstorm all areas of the organization that could be developed upon. 

3. Include all voices for true collaboration.

Any good innovation exercise should allow for cross-departmental collaboration and, wherever possible, include outside coaches to push back on ideas in a way that helps employees think creatively and comprehensively. This allows for all voices to be heard and ensures everyone is working collaboratively and thinking critically across the entire organization.  

4. Create a roadmap for success and guarantee the exercise results in a tangible product.

Our Design Sprint winners were promised that their idea would be implemented, so we made sure to have the resources, including funding, time, and people, available to implement their idea. This way, the Design Sprint was not only a powerful process, but the efforts also resulted in a tangible product.  

So, how do things look six months into 2020? In a nutshell, our Design Sprint winners identified the need for a mentorship program within the organization – and that is now being implemented. Mifgash will be BBYO’s first formal program focusing on a non-linear approach to staff development. Staff at all levels of the organization will be able to opt in to participate, and pairings will not necessary happen based on tenure, but by critically matching colleagues based on individual needs. It’s a new program with a new approach, and it was created from the ground up.  

This type of innovation probably isn’t new to the Jewish people. We utilized our community to identify an area of growth, and developed the methods and processes needed for implementation. Because of it, we will come out of 2020 having not only surviving everything thrown at us, but stronger for it.  As for me, I had an amazing virtual wedding where I was able to include more family and friends than planned, and focus on the true sense of what marriage is all about, all because we focused on being innovative in our approach. This mindset has linked the Jewish people together throughout history, and here we are again. Innovation is not only a tool, but an imperative that we must continue to fully embrace.  

Doug Winkelstein is the Director of Learning and Development at BBYO. He resides in Chicago, IL with husband Michael and their lovable pit bull Herman.