The nuclear security sector—and by that I mean all of the governmental and non-governmental organizations that work on nuclear weapons and nuclear energy issues—is not producing new ideas and dynamic leaders the way some other sectors are. While there is fantastic work being done on a variety of extremely important issues, some by Hewlett Foundation grantees, I believe all of us working on nuclear issues should ask ourselves: How might we bring new ideas and dynamic new leaders to the sector? Here is my list of some strategies that might help us do that:
- Elevate energetic leaders. Funders could focus on funding dynamic individuals, rather than thinking largely about supporting organizations. This way of thinking about funding borrows a lot from technology-oriented venture capital firms that focus on backing companies with leaders who they think have the ideas, management capacity, and dynamism to develop groundbreaking new ideas and attract others to their cause.
- Support a culture of innovation. Specially, encourage each other to try new approaches to old problems, look to other fields for examples of successful policy interventions, and set aside stroking egos in favor of experimentation.
- Learn from failure. Many of us say we do this, but I think we can do better. Nestled, as the Hewlett Foundation is in Silicon Valley, it’s obvious that businesses that take risks are the ones producing transformative new technologies or generating entirely new ways to communicate. Businesses that are able to take those kinds of risks most often have a learning culture that accepts failure and actively learns from it. This type of approach is also happening in the social sector. An innovation starter kit for non-profits explains the basics and an article by Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO offers some examples of iterative thinking being used effectively to generate new solutions to tough social problems.
The threat posed by the thousands of nuclear weapons still in existence is monumental. Accidents like the one that occurred at the Fukushima power plant in Japan remind us as well of the danger nuclear power can pose. I believe that if any problem deserves the freshest thinking and most innovative approaches out there, it is this one. Several foundations, organizations and individuals are tackling this problem head on, and they should be proud of their work to spur innovation. I hope these ideas spark even greater efforts.