Several association leaders I work with have created
a grand challenge. A
grand challenge is bold and aspirational goal that requires innovation
to solve publicly recognized important issue while capturing the
Here are some examples:
� Barbara Byrd Keegan, CEO of the Endocrine Society
and former CEO of the Institute of Food Technology, led an initiative
to apply the expertise of food technologists to the global dilemma of
feeding the world�s future population, 9 billion in 2050. She garnered
the support of large, multi-national corporations as well as
multi-lateral development organizations like USAID.
� Chris McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the
American Geophysical Union, is developing the Thriving Earth Exchange,
a platform for bringing together people who need solutions, scientist
problem-solvers, and sponsor-funders.
� David Gammel, Executive Director of the
Entomological Society of America, is bringing bug scientists together
to deal with issues of global import such as the prevention of
insect-borne disease, food contamination, and threats to shelter.
Each of these leaders has taken the unique expertise and experience of
their members and focused it on make a positive diffference in the
Here are some things to consider if you would like to lead a grand
1. The CEO must take this on as a special project, as this kind of
visionary effort relies on the confluence of (a) the CEO�s passion, (b)
her ability to marshal and develop her organization�s capacity to
deliver, and (c) her ability to communicate the emotional core of this
effort to all the various stakeholders.
2. Conduct an ethnographic investigation to identify and articulate the
emotional center of this work, the powerful human magnet that will draw
the best minds and the necessary resources to you to achieve this new
challenge. The more powerful this is, the easier it will be to attract
resources and find partners with power to contribute. Ethnographic
research is done through research, conversations, focus groups, and
meetings with key players. Some of these people are known and others
will be identified along the way, including:
a. Individual star players inside
b. External thought leaders
c. Other leaders of grand
challenges in other organizations
d. Volunteer leaders
3. Study and document other organizations that are pursuing their own
grand challenges to identify other working leadership models for you to
adopt or transpose to your needs.
4. Develop your Road Map to include a timeline, milestones, and
resource requirements: the people, skills, work, time, and budget
necessary to move from current operations through execution.
A grand challenge typically takes 12-24 months from initial idea to
ready-for-execution, depending upon how much attention the CEO gives to
it. Many activities are iterative. The trajectory of the project takes
place in three stages: Foundation, Development, and Summit.
is all about building the acceptance, appetite, and conceptual
infrastructure to support what is bound to be an up-and-down journey
filled with slow climbs and fast accelerations. Development is the process of
growing, advancing, and refining your grand challenge so it is robust,
well-supported, and well thought out. Summit
is when it all comes together and leads to a
celebrity spokesperson, visionary assembly, and the launch.
A grand challenges is a skeleton key for success, opening doors that
generate interest, investments, resources, and relevance on an
unprecedented scale. And on top of all that, they are good for our world.