Letter from the Publisher: Lessons from Future of Good’s first year

When Future of Good had its soft launch in January 2019, one of our seed investors said to me, “No matter how many organizations you’ve started and led, Vinod, the first year of a new venture is an accelerated apprenticeship—unlearn, learn, and have fun.” 

The first year of Future of Good has been exactly that. 

The world has a huge to-do list, and the 2020s is the last decade we have to demonstrate to the next generation that we give a damn about the future of humanity, society, and the planet. We’re seeing rapid societal change due to demographic shifts, disruptive technologies, Reconciliation, and low trust in civil society organizations. The sense of urgency is great. And the need for creativity is high. 

Thankfully, there is massive growth of social ventures, impact investing, purpose-based careers, with millions of people working hard to enhance people’s lives — welcoming and helping settle newcomers, advancing women’s rights, tackling hunger, restoring Indigenous languages, and shaping affordable cities, among many other efforts. 

So, how do we enhance lives in an era of massive growth and rapid change? 

We need to learn as fast as the world is changing. 

And one of the best ways to do that is through stories. 

More than any other form, more than courses and webinars, more than PDF reports and conferences, stories are the ultimate form of learning, which is why they’ve lasted for thousands of years.

When you craft a story that is captivating but that also features a neat insight, a nugget of learning, then you can move hearts and minds. And that’s as magical as it is impactful.

In our first year, we’ve been fortunate to craft and publish some incredible stories, covering everything from the launch of the ambitious Equality Fund to shining a light on how AI is affecting social change work. We conducted illuminating Q&As with world-renowned leaders such as Jed Emerson, author of Impact Investing; Anna Laycock, CEO of the Finance Innovation Lab; and Edgar Villaneuva, author of Decolonizing Wealth. We covered conferences that matter, including MaRS’ Social Finance Forum, Evergreen’s Future Cities Canada Summit, and Philanthropic Foundations Canada Symposium. 

These stories are clearly landing for our readers: about 90 percent say that they learn something new every time they read Future of Good.

One of our readers expressed it well, saying, “At a time when the sector is growing and changing so fast, the people who fuel their own growth and development have the greatest impact. And for our team to have the greatest impact we can have, we all need to read Future of Good.”

Throughout this wild year of growth, we’ve had a chance to reflect — and I’ve collected my five most cherished learnings and unlearnings below. I hope these reflections spark new perspectives, challenge old notions, and illuminate your own blind spots. 

Let’s dive in.

 

1. Build up the courage to leave the shore—over and over again. 

As the old saying goes, “You can’t find anything new if you don’t leave the shore.” For entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, this is easier said than done. You might be able to find the courage and passion to do it once, but to do it repeatedly takes tenacity. 

For me, this meant covering conferences across Canada, launching the Edge & Main podcast, and crafting our 21 Young Impact Leaders list. These were all new for us, but we found that every time we left the shore to try something new, rather than being drained, we called up more energy from deep within. Creative endeavours are by their nature uncertain. If you are worried about what others might think or about how your “entrepreneurial spotlight” might be jeopardized, then you will never really create anything. 

Here’s the thing: When you step outside of your comfort zone or what’s in the existing plan, you end up discovering creative powers in yourself that you never suspected were there. 

 

2. The “adoption curve” is wrong.

That adoption curve that investors and startup experts love to talk about—the one with early adopters on the left and laggards on the right—is obsolete. I had to unlearn my assumptions about it. 

It’s easy to fall into the mental model of one particular persona as an “early adopter” and another as a “laggard,” and we often use language as a general classifier: those who use “in trend” terms are early adopters, those who need explanations are laggards. 

But we found that who’s an early adopter and who’s a laggard is highly dependant on, in this case, the story — not their lexicon. When we wrote a story on how UNICEF accepts and disburses digital currency like bitcoin, we had a particular group of our readers show up as early adopters and keen readers. And when we wrote a story on decolonizing impact investing, we had a mostly different group show up as early adopters and keen readers. There were laggards for both stories. 

What does this mean? Having one master adoption curve with early adopters on the left and laggards on the right is an old mental model. In some contexts, early adopters are laggards and in other contexts, laggards are early adopters. 

Here’s the thing: There isn’t just one adoption curve, there are at least two. Think about the contexts in which laggards are early adopters and you’ll gain their trust, and then traction. 

 

3. Speak through your work. 

In a world where digital content is everywhere, there is constant pressure to produce more and more stories. So you end up producing more and more stories just to remain “new” and “exclusive.” Ultimately, this influences the quality of your work: when you’re in a hurry to create a splash and think only in large brush strokes, the work feels flimsy. 

In an era of “breaking” news, we’ve decided to build a library. Our goal is to equip impact-focused people with the smartest insights on what’s current and what’s next, so that they can do their life’s work well. We’re thrilled when our readers say, “I didn’t know about the new Social Finance Fund but Future of Good explained it well,” or “Understanding how the rise of micro-work and gig work in social change is helping our own planning.” We want our content to matter for a decade. 

Here’s the thing: If you don’t have the proper experiments to back up how your offerings are actually making a difference in people’s work and lives, you’ll stop mattering to those who need you the most. 

 

4. Absorb the wisdom—not the conventions—of others.

There are people who came before you, and others will ask what you can and what you did learn from them. Not a week has gone by when we haven’t been asked how Future of Good is different from X or if we can beat the unique page views of Y or if we can write a story like Z did. You end up being marked by the markers of the industry people are used to. 

With every story pitch our team analyzes, we aim to answer one simple question: “What will people learn from this?” There will be users, investors, experts, and advisors who want you to look at other similar startups and those who came before you—and you should. Be aware, however, that the influence these other organizations can have upon you can be deeper than you’re consciously aware of. 

There is a fine line between absorbing wisdom and absorbing convention. In trying to soak up that wisdom, make sure you don’t end up absorbing conventions and blind spots that don’t fit you.

Here’s the thing: While in theory, there should be no limit to what we can learn from others who came before us, in practice this has its upper limits. Double check with people who don’t think like you to explore whether you’ve absorbed wisdom or convention.

 

5. Fall in love with your why.

As entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs, we spend so much time evangelizing our solution that sometimes we end up developing “technical lock” — that is, if we’re not careful, we can become locked into seeing every problem the same way, using the same techniques and strategies that have become so imprinted in us. 

This lock comes from the pressure to monetize and create efficiency. It’s always simpler to follow a pre-existing route, but doing so can make us adopt a kind of tunnel vision. Don’t get me wrong, we have to monetize in order to become sustainable and profitable. But the “technical lock” that afflicts entrepreneurs can mean they lose a sense of the overall purpose of their work, of the larger question at hand, and of what impels them to do their work in the first place. Every Future of Good story begins with a short “why it matters” paragraph. Why? This is our way of gently connecting ourselves to the larger purpose—and our readers love it. 

Here’s the thing: By creating gentle reminders within your offering or product, you can constantly prevent yourself from fetishizing certain techniques or from becoming overly obsessed with one approach.

 

Where are we going in 2020?

Future of Good is all about stories that make you smarter.

If you’re passionate about what you do, desire smart insights and fresh perspectives, and feel like we have the power to have a greater impact, Future of Good is for you.

It’s for the professional in a non-profit, for the executive in a philanthropic foundation, for the entrepreneur growing their social venture, and for the community organizer on the ground — among many, many more.

We’re in regular collaboration with the most brilliant doers, thinkers, activists, and creatives that are prominent and in the background, in fancy offices and on the frontlines, to bring you the freshest ideas and insights that push us all to do better.

From artificial intelligence and social movements, to next gen philanthropy and SDGs, we track and cover topics that are—and will be—of importance to you. I’m hugely grateful for our brilliant team, as well as for all the Future of Good readers and partners for the trust you place in us.

As we enter a new decade—the 2020s—there is much to look forward to and much to learn. So, in the new year, we’re launching our Learning Community memberships to support your growth and development in a deeper, more personalized way.

We built Future of Good on conversations with thousands of impact-focused people on what they find difficult, what can be made easier, and how digital content can add value. We’re still in our early days. We can’t do this alone. That’s why we’re committed to sharing what we learn—with detail and honesty.

 

Here’s to stories that move us forward,

Vinod Rajasekaran

Publisher & CEO