Ideas not organisations

“What organisation do I say I’m working for, Charlie?” “And how do I claim my tube fare?” I couldn’t believe I was being asked these questions just two weeks after setting up two chairs and some boxes at Camden Lock.

We ran a Problem Solving Booth. It worked. And now there was a ripple effect. I needed a core team. And somebody wanted to give us a small grant to do more. And the money had to be paid into something. Into an organisation.

I founded the young people’s charity, MAC-UK, and ran it for seven years. I loved working with young people. I also loved the people I worked with. I didn’t love running an organisation.

It was fine to begin with. There were only three of us. But then there were 40. And people started asking me about dentist appointments and annual leave. I found myself getting up early to travel miles to learn about accrual accounts. And the HR Lead at Accenture became my best friend.

But I was a clinical psychologist and I was passionate about being on the streets and working with young people. Yet, I had created this “thing” that had a life and needs of its own.

Legitimately so, as staff have personal lives. And teeth are important. But how did I get here? How did I get to a point where it was an HR issue that woke me at 3am and not a young person calling for an alibi from a custody suite?

So, we come up with ideas, we want to make our communities better and then before we know it we’re setting up an organisation.

A box that goes around an idea. We then write funding applications for things we want to do. And it often takes months or years to know if we’re getting the money.

"This is just like everything else. This is bullshit”

Meanwhile, the young person who had the idea and was motivated has got fed up and gone. “This is just like everything else,” they would say, “You say we can do something but then it doesn’t happen. This is bullshit.”

The important question is what’s the alternative? How do you grow a team of brilliant people and get the money to be able to pay them, if you don’t have an organisation?

Anyone who knows the answer to this is smarter than me. And many people are. But in this case, I’m yet to find someone who holds all the answers. There’s lots of talk about needing alternative funding models. But little action.

And people are so attached to the brand of their organisations. Which just leads to a culture of competition. David Robinson, Founder of CityLinks, talks about Weightless Engines. He asks whether this could all be done by a catalyst that only exists as the sum of the parts.

A loose collaboration between different kinds of organisations, particularly improbable ones: businesses, cultural organisations, universities.

I’m a fan and we chatted over a coffee. I told him I didn’t want to end up running another organisation. Because I thought it would undermine all that I wanted to do. It would become about the organisation. David’s eyes lit up. “What can I do to help?” he asked.

Reluctantly, I’ve had to set up a little organisation. For now. It’s called Owls and it lets us do stuff like Problem Solving Booths. But it’s an enabler, not a thing in itself.

The “how do we fund things differently?” question is a big one. And something lots of people seem to be asking. At last. But nobody quite seems to know what to do. Or their governance stops them from doing it.

It’s a question that’s attracting national thought-leaders and CEOs to get round the table. We’re inviting them and they’re coming. That’s always a good sign.

They say they don’t know the answers. But they want to work it out. Ideas not organisations. Now, let’s run some Problem Solving Booths on that.

This is the fourth in a five-part series explaining the concept of Problem Solving Booths. For more information visit

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