The Center
Jonathan Reed, PhD
& How to Contact Us


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About The Center for World-Changing Organizations

Greetings. I’m Jonathan Reed, the person who started The Center for World-Changing Organizations. Before I tell you about the Center, I’d likr to tell you why I started it. Please don’t be put off by the amount of text that follows: I assure you, it’s worth your while to read it.

Except for two years in the early 2000s when I worked for The Nature Conservancy, I’ve run my own consulting firm for almost 30 years. Over the years, I’ve consulted for a wide range organizations, both in the US and abroad. They range from corporations like General Electric and government institutions like US Geological Survey’s science centers to small nonprofits.

Given the challenges our world and communities face, some years ago I decided to focus my consulting practice on organizations that are committed to making the world better. It seemed at the time, and even more so now, that the challenges we face are growing much faster than our ability to solve them. So I decided to do what I could, given my experience in management consulting, to help these organizations.

You might think I’d focus on nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (and NGOs, which operate abroad). But I’ve learned these organizations don’t have a corner on the market for making the world better. That’s why we help what I call “world-changing” companies, governmental institutions, and nonprofits (I’m including NGOs in this category). They range from small organizations working in local communities to global organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development helping over 100 countries and The Nature Conservancy that works in over 30 countries. They also include companies that are as committed to making a difference as turning a profit.

So I delved into the literature on what some authors call “mission-driven” organizations. They usually don’t include companies. And what I found was:

A huge disappointment!

Most of the books and articles were nothing more than warmed-over advice for commercial enterprises reframed for non-profits. Little of it addressed the unique challenges of organizations that are changing communities, regions, and the world. This was a major disappointment to me: how am I supposed to help world-changing organizations when almost nothing of substance is written about helping them be more successful?

Let me back up for a moment. I got into consulting through the back door. After leaving academia, I started The University Group, a private consulting firm that represented 65 of some of the top faculty at University of Wisconsin—Madision. Over time, some of our clients asked me to consult for them on quality improvement and then strategic planning. Since I enjoyed consulting more than promoting my stable of stars, I started doing it full time. For what it’s worth, here’s my take on the state of the management fields that I consulted in.

Quality improvement (QI). It is the pick of the litter. It leaders—Deming, Juran, Ishikawa, Box, Joiner, and many others—pioneered ways to improve systems and processes that make and manage stuff, all of which for the purpose of delighting customers. Stuff like Toyota cars and Nikon cameras. Current six-sigma industrial programs are offsprings of QI. Some US corporations practice QI, others thought they didn’t need to, like GM. Nevertheless, QI is a mature field with proven methodologies and a great track record. Unfortunately, much of what it has to offer won’t help most world-changing organizations. Their challenges involve improving their strategy, marketing, and leadership; not improving processes and systems. (And, yes, I’m fully aware that QI involves a lot more than this—but I’m generalizing.)

Leadership and management. It seems that every expert has his or her own take these fields. In other words, there is little agreement as to the best approaches. To cite one critical divergence in approaches consider management by objective (MBO), probably the dominant management paradigm in the West, vs. quality improvement’s focus on process improvement, systems thinking, and customer focus. MBO encourages employees to harness their drive and ambition to meet their annual “numbers” (think: Enron) while QI encourages teams to improve their processes to better satisfy their customers’ needs (think: Toyota). Any guess which approach is better? The Gallup Organization, which has surveyed millions of employees and many organizations, probably has the best handle on what works best for at least supervisors. I describe their approach in my Manager’s Survival Guide.

Strategic Planning. In my estimation, this field is up for grabs. There is no standardized approach. As mentioned elsewhere on this site, the dirty little secret about strategic planning is that 90% of the time it fails to produce its intended results. And that’s for corporations! It’s probably even worse for nonprofits and governmental institutions. I consider Henry Mintzberg (McGiil University)—along with Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, and several others—to be the most astute observers and practitioners of management in the western world. If you want to understand the bewildering state of strategic planning, read some of Mintzberg’s articles and books, which you’ll find in the bibliography of my strategic planning guide. As I mention elsewhere about strategic planning, I”ve abandoned all the tradition planning models that I’ve tried to use midstream in my planning work with organizations because they just don’t get to the point fast enough. The point I’m talking about is helping the organization resolve its key challenges so it can be more successful. Plus they have lots of other flaws.

As I mention elsewhere on strategic planning, I”ve abandoned all the tradition planning models that I’ve tried in midstream in my planning work with organizations because they just don’t get to the point fast enough. The point I’m talking about is helping organizations resolve their key challenges so they can be more successful. These planning models have lots of other flaws besides dawdling away planners’ time.

So I built a new strategic planning model that gets to the point right it away by zeroing in on what supports, produces, and drives an organization’s success. I consider incorporating the powerful ideas and tools of strategic marketing into strategic planning to be a breakthrough in strategic planning.

Strategic Marketing. This is the diamond in the rough for world-changing organizations. If the success of most world-changing organizations depended on making stuff, quality improve would get my top billing. But it isn’t. Their success depends on better strategy, marketing, and leadership. So the field of strategic marketing not only addresses the second subject on my list, it also greatly adds to the effectiveness of strategic planning. If there is a dean of strategic marketing, it’s Philip Kotler at Northwestern University. I’ve based much of my guide, Strategic Marketing: To Better Understand, Engage, and Serve Those Who Determine Your Success, on his classification and approach to strategic marketing.

The success of the vast majority of world-changing organizations depends on strategic marketing: understanding, engage, and serve those who determine their success. The field of strategic marketing is well-developed and battle-tested among legions of corporations who battle it out daily in today’s marketplaces—with branding being the most potent weapon in their arsenals. Why not harness the power of strategic marketing and, in particular, branding to better reach those one serves and relies on for support to make the world a better place?

I believe I know the answer to this rhetorical question: the ideas and tools of strategic marketing remain opaque to all but the largest world-changing organizations that afford to hire squadrons of professional marketers. Here’s a challenge for you: go to your local bookstore, buy a book on marketing, read it, and see if you both understand it and can apply it to your organization. My bet is you can’t. The reason: nobody has bothered to translate strategic marketing into ideas and terms that make sense to world-changing organizations. Though there are some books on marketing for nonprofits, I think you’ll find all but one of them watered-down versions of their corporate cousins.

The only worthwhile book I’ve read on marketing for nonprofits (but not more broadly on world-changing organizations) is Strategic Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations by Alan Andreason (Georgetown University) and Philip Kotler. These authors should be commended for their tour de force on this topic. But, there’s a “but.” I consider it a graduate-level marketing text that’s a bit arduous to plow through. To be honest, I found it a tough read. Great ideas and tools, but as a friend of mine once said, “You pay the cost to be the boss.” I also quibble with some of their terminology, which, if simplified, could make for a less precipitous climb for readers. My marketing guide covers much the same ground but over more even terrain. To summarize: strategic marketing holds the keys to much of world-changing need to know and practice to be much more successful.

So back to”Why I started this Center.” As what should be obvious to you my now, I started the Center to share with you what I learned about making world-changing organizations more successful—at delivering on, promoting, and building support for their missions and organizations. Given that I think better strategy, marketing, and leadership are the keys to world-changing success, that’s what the Center focused on. Perhaps we’ll broaden it to other topics in the future. But at least for now, that’s our focus.

Though it might not be obvious to you, I spent years researching and developing the ideas and material on this site and in our leadership guides. What’s not obvious is all the blind alleys I wandered down to get here. Take strategic planning as an example. I always wondered why nobody focused on organizational success in strategic planning. Instead, most authors focused on performance, which is easy to measure. Corporations focus on performance, which is usually measured as increased profits.

While corporate profits are easy to measure, world-changing success isn’t. I believe this difference between corporate performance and world-changing success is the crux of why corporate management practices don’t translate well to world-changing organizations. So I undertook the unenviable task of recasting strategic planning to enhance the success of world-changing organizations. After taking many wrong turns and venturing into strange neighborhoods, I finally stumbled onto the ideas of what supports, produces, and drives world-changing success. And by wandering about the landscape of what produces world-changing success, I came upon the idea of incorporating strategic marketing into strategic planning. I could chronicle similar sagas in drafting each of my six leadership guides.

How you can help support the Center. The “opportunity costs” I’ve incurred in devoting years to researching and writing about how to make world-changing organizations more successful has been significant. So how can help as many organizations that are making a difference in the world become more success while still “keeping the lights on?” Here’s the business model I’ve decided on:

  • Give it way. Give everything away for free.
  • Donations. Rely on the good will of people and organizations who use our guides to make generous contributes to the Center to reimburse us for our years of work.
  • Consulting and training services. Avail yourself of our consulting services to implement world-changing approaches to strategic planning, strategic marketing, leadership, and management. We also provide presentations, workshops, and training courses on a range of world-changing topics.
  • Buy printed guides. Purchase our printed guides, which is described under Services.

Why we instead of me? Several reasons: Anyone who does research and development, as well as creative work, stands on the shoulders of those who went before. Though I might have pushed a few boundaries in the fields I’ve written about, other people create those boundaries. I’ve also observed there are “we” and “me” oriented people. Though I strive to be among the former group, I know I often fall into the latter. Thus, failing as I might in real life, I can at least pretend to succeed in the printed word. Readability: we reads better and connotes a more detuned ego than me. Last, if the Center succeeds as I hope it will, through your support it may soon be more than a one-person band.

About Jonathan Reed, PhD

I have an unusual background for a management consultant. For better or worse, I’m an academic product of the University of Wisconsin—Madison. I pried three degrees away from this institution in the biological sciences, plus the designations of Lecturer and Honorary Fellow. It took the institution a while to figure out how to be rid of me. I never took a business or management course. Instead, nature—and preserving it—intrigued me. Though I never I took a business course, I believe that I learned more about organizations studying complex biological systems than I would have learned in business school, industrial engineering, or industrial psychology.

As an undergraduate, I spent much of my time working as a lab tech in Dr. Charlie Heidelberger’s lab at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research. I did my master’s work on the arctic adaptions of Sandhill Cranes nesting 500 miles north of the Arctic Circle. For a change of scenery, I researched light attraction and vision in endangered Hawaiian seabirds on the island of Kauai for four field seasons, plus a stint as a research fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, for my doctoral thesis. I conducted this research out of Dr. Jack Hailman’s lab.

As intriguing as all this might sound, I eventually burned out on academia. I discovered my real passion and talent, such as it is, lies in grappling with complex organizational problems, particularly of a strategic nature. So in 1988, I recruit 65 of the top faculty at UW—Madison to be represented by a consulting firm I just started, The University Group, Ltd. I represented faculty from most of the departments in the business school and engineering college, but, interestingly, none from the biological sciences.

As I mentioned above, over time, clients asked me to consult for them on quality improvement, strategic planning, and then on a range of other subjects. Since I enjoyed consulting, I eventually stopped representing others and consulted full time. Then in 2000, The Nature Conservancy recruited me to help lead their Conservation Science Division at their headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. I served as Associate Director and then Acting Lead of this Division, which included most of its lead scientists and science programs. I left the Conservancy after a major reorganization eliminated both the Conservation Science and International Divisions.

I then worked on several U.S. Agency for International Development and World Bank projects in the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan, and Trinidad & Tobago, I describe several projects I worked on in the Projects page of this website. I’ve spent the last several years researching and developing ways to help world-changing organizations become more successful, and preparing to launch the Center for World-Changing Organizations.

To Contact Us

Center for World-Changing Organizations

4720 Regent St., Suite 96B

Madison, WI 53705 USA