I’m very proud to be a part of the Fuse Corps team, a social venture that places some of America’s most talented entrepreneurial leaders in the trenches with a mayor, governor, or dynamic social entrepreneur to discover new approaches to sticky problems.  Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, for example, needed Erika Dimmler, a CNN producer who was tired of reporting on the news and wanted to make the news, to help him bring Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project into the Sacramento Unified School District.

Fuse Corps Fellows act as catalysts to bring together corporate, non-profit, government, and philanthropy groups in new and creative ways – “the politics of entrepreneurship” as Steve Case puts it.  Fellows don’t start by presuming that they have all the answers by looking at problems from a bird’s eye view.  Rather, they begin from the worm’s eye view by developing greater empathy for citizens, their problems and needs, then build up to new solutions.  

Fuse Corps started with an idea from Lenny Mendonca, founder of the Half Moon Bay Brewery, as well as a senior partner @ McKinsey & Company, and many other pursuits.  Since those early days of making little bets with Lenny as a cofounder, it has been nothing short of a joy to be involved, and to put the advice from LITTLE BETS into action to (hopefully) benefit citizens who deserve better leadership these days.  After all, Washington DC is a snake pit that too often sucks the life out of even the most well intentioned people and leaders (the authentic innovator Don Berwick’s resignation letter from his post as Administrator of Medicare & Medicaid will be a historic artifact of this era of institutional corruption).

My Uncle Joe, a life-long truck driver who now earns about 30% less than he did 5 years ago, and yet watches as people like Dick Fuld and Jon Corzine walk away from leading institutions that had fraudulent cultures without any form of accountability, is giving up hope in America, and the American Dream.  This unacceptable.  America was never supposed to be about crony capitalism. It was made great by Emersonian self-reliance and entrepreneurial thinking, grit, craft, and hard work, as well as an appreciation for what Tocqueville saw when he visited soon after the country’s founding — people working together in their communities TOGETHER to build churches, schools, bridges, and anything else they needed to lead productive and (hopefully) happy lives.

And, so Lenny (who is his generation’s John W. Gardner IMHO) recruited me to help get an organization off the ground that could innovate closest to the citizen needs. (As Tip O’Neil famously said, “All politics is local.”) And we were joined joined by Jennifer Anastasoff, a talented person as our founding ceo, and Dave Viotti who took the organization from concept to social venture, and we partnered with Gen. Colin & Alma Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance, and the Points of Light Institute, where we’ve had a terrific collaboration with Ayesha Khana, who leads the Civic Incubator there, as well as Michelle Nunn, their star ceo and her engaged colleagues, and Sonal Shah, who until last year led the White House Office of Social Innovation & Civic Participation.

We were extremely fortunate to receive support from a number of extremely strong advisors, as well as generous angel investors, and from Starbucks Corporation, our founding corporate partner in addition to McKinsey, led by Fuse Corps’ friend Howard Schultz, and a very talented and socially minded team of leaders, who from the outset believed in our vision, and in the need for fresh approaches to tackling vexing social problems.  As Howard said in his call to arms of corporate leaders last year, that eventually became Starbucks INDIVISIBLE job creation campaign, “We’ve lost our humanity.”

Well put, sir.  Rather than remain cynical or helpless, creating Fuse Corps was one of many actions needed to DO SOMETHING about that problem.

And, so while we still have a great deal to learn and figure out, our little bets over the past few years have proven out the significant need and demand for more creative approaches to solving citizen problems.  The four pilot fellows report having life changing experiences, while the mayors and social entrepreneurs lavish rave reviews of working with the fellows.  It’s no surprise, as you’ll see from understanding who these people are when you meet the Fellows here.

They are examples of people we call Black Sheep.

When Pixar director Brad Bird first met with Pixar’s cofounders Steve Jobs, John Lasseter, and Ed Catmull, they had already produced three blockbuster films, yet their biggest fear was becoming complacent. They invited Bird to challenge their normal approaches to doing work.

Bird invited his colleagues to reverse doubts from the technical team that their ideas for their next project were too ambition  us and would be too costly.  Bird and his “black sheep” colleagues ultimately made The Incredibles, an internationally acclaimed film, for less money per minute than the previous film.

As Bird recounted to Stanford Professors Robert Sutton & Huggy Rao and McKinsey Quarterly’s Alan Webb, Bird says,Give us the black sheep. I want artists who are frustrated. I want the ones who have another way of doing things that nobody’s listening to.”

We, The Black Sheep, look around us and see that the old way of working—largely from the top down—isn’t working.  There are men and women in positions of power today who have become disconnected and divided from the people they are supposed to be serving in a way that discourages collaboration and creative energy. The world is desperate for creative change from the bottom up, fueled by Black Sheep.

Bleak as the future may seem, hope should not be lost.  History cycles, thanks to empowered individuals and organizations that opt for change.  American Transcendentalism, Abolitionism, women’s voting rights, Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive “Bull Moose” reform movement in response to the Gilded Era, or the rise of evangelical communities such as Saddleback Church and Willow Creek are several that we admire and study.  The Black Sheep deeply believe that entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, designers, authentic and ethical business leaders, and social change-makers can work across vastly different disciplines to learn from one another, generate creative approaches to vexing problems, and forge collaborations to turn ideas into real initiatives and ventures.

What ultimately bonds The Black Sheep is the belief that authentic and lasting collaborations depend on a spirit of genuine curiosity, generosity, and the pursuit of broader purpose.

In 2011, a group of Black Sheep traveled to Detroit to support local community leaders in their efforts to combat pervasive tobacco addiction among poor black youths.  Video game developers locked arms with branding specialists, product designers, comedians, and advertising professionals to develop new products and businesses in response.  Utilizing a creative approach to problem solving, grounded in the entrepreneurial process and creative methods, community leaders felt empowered to launch new initiatives and products to counter the power of tobacco advertising.

You haven’t seen or heard many stories in the mainstream media, but we were inspired by Detroit’s cultural diversity, artistry, humor, and entrepreneurial bent.  We felt that we were at the center of American rebirth and renewal, and it was thanks to many Black Sheep whose names aren’t familiar (not yet at least).

But the future is arriving now, and this revolution will be improvised.

For more on Fuse Corps here, and consider joining The Black Sheep if you’re interested.  Thank you and let’s DO THIS!

here’s the Fuse Corps press release:

updated 8/28/2012 9:00:00 AM ET

SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Fuse Corps, a non-profit that enlists the nation’s most talented professionals into public service through a mid-career fellowship program, today announced the opening of nominations and direct applications for its next fellowship year. Nominations and applications will be accepted through the Fuse Corps website (www.fusecorps.org) through September 30, 2012.

“We believe our country’s greatest challenges can only be solved by combining the ingenuity and collaboration of the public and private sectors — and that combination is needed most at state and local levels,” said Jennifer Anastasoff, CEO and co-founder, Fuse Corps. “We are looking for candidates with a passion for public service and the motivation to apply their business acumen for the improvement of communities across the nation.”

Starting March 2013, those selected for the Fuse Corps fellowship program will attend an immersive leadership program which draws from the best practices of leading for-profit, public and social sector organizations, including McKinsey & Company, the d.school Institute of Design at Stanford, Points of Light, and Little Bets Labs, before embarking on year-long paid assignments to improve government and communities.

“At a time when the country is desperate for fresh approaches to solve problems and the role of government is openly debated, Fuse Corps addresses the concerns of citizens from the ground up as opposed to following the status quo, top down approach,” said Peter Sims, Fuse Corps co-founder, entrepreneur and best-selling author of Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries.

Lenny Mendonca, co-founder of McKinsey & Company’s social sector practice and of Fuse Corps, added, “To spur the growth and renewal of the US Economy takes real innovation and leadership. Highly efficient and effective entrepreneurs and business professionals bring sorely needed help to public sector organizations who, after facing a slowed economy and severe cuts, need it most. From Erika Dimmler bringing a groundbreaking gardens initiative to local schools with Mayor Kevin Johnson to Jeremy Goldberg helping to bridge the important talent gap in San Jose, we are seeing the positive impact Fuse Corps Fellows can have. I look forward to growing this kind of innovation and leadership asset in communities around the country in 2013.”

About Fuse Corps
Fuse Corps is a national, non-partisan, non-profit social enterprise that enlists top business professionals and entrepreneurs into public service through its professional fellowship program — in order to solve the biggest challenges facing communities. Fuse Corps is driven by several of America’s top innovators in the public and private sectors and it has collaborated with McKinsey & Co., d.school Institute of Design at Stanford, Points of Light, America’s Promise Alliance, Teach for America, Starbucks, and Summit, among others. For more information, please visit www.fusecorps.org or follow @FuseCorps on Twitter.