We’re a remote team with roots in Oahu and Silicon Valley. Driven by our work with the Omidyar family, we are dedicated to helping organizations create lasting impact. We’ve seen first hand how easy it can be for organizations to spend billions of dollars and not make significant progress.
The initial idea for Kumu (which means "source of wisdom" in Hawaiian) came from a need to visualize relationships in the Hawaii renewable energy space. Existing tools were overly academic and painful to use—so we decided to build one of our own. The result was a step forward, but ultimately the network map wasn’t all that valuable by itself.
We had visualized who the key players were and how they were connected, but we needed more. We needed a way to better understand all of the factors coming into play. These factors are intertwined in ways that can be difficult to understand (and even harder to talk about) unless you take the time to visually map each one. We needed a way to expose assumptions and encourage debate. We needed a way to incorporate differing perspectives. We needed a way to show the influence stakeholders have on different parts of the system. And we needed to do all of this in a way that wasn’t completely overwhelming.
In essence, what we needed was a simple way to talk about complex systems. And that’s what Kumu has evolved into today.
We’ve been influenced by a number of great thought leaders and organizations. Santa Fe Institute deserves a lot of the credit for seeding our ideas on complex adaptive systems and networks. Donella Meadows’ books provided a great primer on finding leverage within systems. June Holley shared thoughtful techniques on cultivating networks and using visualizations to support that work. Scott Spann showed us how systems mapping can work as a group process and how powerful it can be in building shared understanding and alignment. Rob Ricigliano taught us the importance of feedback loops and how powerful narratives around those loops help people understand the fundamental patterns driving a system. Gene Bellinger made systems concepts approachable, and hammered home the idea that systems thinking is about solving problems in ways that they stay solved and don’t create new problems in the process. And we can’t forget our own father, who has been instrumental in the adoption of systems approaches across the Omidyar organizations.
For our next phase, we’re tying in the recent advances in behavioral sciences regarding how individuals make choices for themselves and society. We strongly believe change happens through individuals, and trying to move systems without considering individual mindsets and motivations is a waste of time and money. We still have a lot to learn in this area so if you’re a thought leader in this field, consider this your warning. We have no shame admitting the stuff we don’t know and reaching out for guidance!
When we’re not working on Kumu, Jeff enjoys long walks on the beach and romantic candlelit dinners—at the end of 30 mile trail runs with his wife Kelly. If you've ever seen a guy in your local coffee shop taking shots of cappuccino, talking on the phone, answering emails, and lacing up his running shoes (all at the same time)—that was Jeff. Ryan is a recovering surfaholic, slowly adjusting to the responsibilities of parenthood while running a startup. If you’re ever on Oahu, you’ll often find Ryan relapsing into the warm waters of the pacific.
We don’t believe that Kumu is a silver bullet for impact. Effective strategies require mastery of a number of different fields. Our hope is that Kumu provides the scaffolding for you to build an approach that works for your team and makes the whole process a bit more enjoyable.
Enjoy the journey,
Jeff & Ryan