A Conversation with Keystone Accountability and SOI

Neil Gaught (NG) is the conceiver of Single Organizing Idea (SOI®) and author of  two books – the award winning CORE: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for Good and his latest publication the CORE Playbook.

Keystone co-founder David Bonbright (DB) is the co-creator of the widely adopted Constituent Voice™ Learning Loops method and author of the Mutual Accountability for Social Change blog.

Keystone project manager Megan Sayers (MS) brought the pair together to ask them about the opportunities they see combining SOI® and Constituent Voice™ brings and their shared desire to help create a fairer, more collaborative and sustainable future.

MS: What is SOI® and why did you decide to write the CORE Playbook now?

NG: Single Organizing Idea is a 21st Century management system. It’s a very pragmatic way of organizing an enterprise around a core purpose that has both meaning and the potential to generate both commercial and societal value. It’s a very different system from the top-down, old military style systems most organizations are unfortunately shackled to that is preventing them from realising all sorts of opportunities that can benefit them and their stakeholders. In a nutshell, SOI® is a simple but highly effective tool that not only allows everyone, both inside and outside the enterprise, to understand why the organization matters, but also ensures that what matters is turned into tangible, positive outcomes.

People and our planet are facing the most extraordinary challenges. There is upheaval and dramatic change happening on every level and a rapidly growing realisation that what we have been doing, the way we do things is not sustainable. The systems that we have today are not sustainable and we need to change; and change quickly. Businesses are uniquely placed to be able to help, but for now many, many of them are part of the problem and we need to change that. That is why I wrote the Playbook. Because businesses can create both economic and societal value they can be a massive part of the solution but only if they can adapt, change and transition to a new, more modern and more efficient way of doing things. Currently, far too many businesses are in top-down mode; exploiting resources to enrich the people at the top at the expense of the people at the bottom — and not just the people at the bottom, but the resources that the planet has. It’s simply not sustainable. SOI® is about putting sustainability at the core of the business.

SOI® builds creative, generative relationships with a business’s stakeholders. The right SOI® at the core of a business strategy drives and surfaces new levels of creativity, innovation, and much deeper degrees of engagement. The only way to solve the problems we have today is for people to gather around a shared idea that really matters to them and the world around them – and that is what SOI® helps facilitate.

It gets people to realize that there is one common cause regardless of organizational type and size. It does this by bringing everybody together around one idea. A single organizing idea forces individual organizations to look for solutions, but also, in the right hands, forces entire networks to come together to create the kinds of solutions that we need.

MS: Why did you approach David and Keystone to contribute to this playbook?

NG: I think it was less of an approach and more of a kind of a simultaneous, mutual ‘aha!’  moment that we shared. I was immediately really excited about Constituent Voice and what David calls the “relationship metrics” that sit at the heart of the too-often fuzzy debates about impact measurement. SOI® has always had a way of going out to stakeholders and asking questions, but nowhere near the quality of Constituent Voice. Here was a guy who had dedicated his career to creating an amazing breakthrough approach to engagement and measurement. What he and his team had created was something that slotted absolutely perfectly into the SOI®. Simply put – it was the missing piece.

You can identify, define, and then start immediately aligning your businesses with its SOI®. Then, what David’s tool brings – what the SOI® Learning Loops, and the amazing assessments tools being developed and digitised bring — is the ability to monitor, in real time, the impact that your business is having on society and on the business enterprise itself. It’s brilliant!

MS: A mutual ‘aha’ moment, really?

DB: [Laughs] It’s a bit Hollywood, but true. We were both speaking at a philanthropy conference in Milan last year. I was immediately taken by Neil’s passion and intrigued by SOI®. He’d clearly developed and proved the value of SOI® over a number of years. His cause and the clarity of his message immediately resonated with me.

He gave me a copy of CORE: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business For Good and I dived into it on the flight home. I wrote him a long email the next day and after that the emails were regular until early this year when he suggested we work together on elaborating the measurement elements of SOI® for the CORE Playbook. In working with him on the Playbook, I got to understand SOI® much better. I studied all the ‘business in society’ frameworks out there and realized that SOI® was something totally unique – a step-by-step tool that gets the job done! This is the Net Promoter Score for corporate purpose. The involvement of other people who were gathering around SOI®, and the opportunity to be involved in, and contribute to something that works, and that could scale to millions of organizations drew me further in to what is a very exciting opportunity to build on what have been achieving here at Keystone and make an even greater difference.

MS: Neil, it’s clear from your book that SOI® is not just for commercial businesses, but also for non-profits and foundations. What is the value proposition for governments and non-profits?

NG: NGOs play important roles at the centre of ecosystems. I’ve worked with lots of NGOs of different shapes and sizes and in many countries. What I’ve found is that SOI® really enhances an NGOs ability to connect with their networks. It’s great if a cause driven organization knows what its purpose is, but if the partners, be they corporations or other types of enterprises, are not driven by the same idea then they are hamstrung. Their effectiveness and the potential they have is diluted.

NGOs have a real importance to be a mentor or act as a facilitator of growing that network, and breaking down those barriers. If you’re all kicking off a project and organizing yourself around the same idea that you have with single-minded focus, it makes it a much easier conversation right from the outset; it means you can get to action mode very quickly – which saves both time and resources.

Foundations are very interesting. Big businesses often have deep silos, and one of the especially big ones is the foundation. Because the foundation has different objectives to the corporation it is assumed that they have a totally different purpose; that they’re completely separate entities. This absolutely does not need to be the case at all and what an SOI® does is break down the barriers that exist within the enterprise and levels the playing field between the corporation and the foundation so that the two things become one.

DB: Exactly, and that’s the key! The deepest relationships you can have are relationships of equality, relationships of mutuality, relationships of reciprocal obligation. That’s where social capital is formed. That’s where we make progress in the world.  SOI® creates the social capital from which any organization, be they a for profit or not-for-profit, will thrive in terms of impact and financial return.

If you are interested in learning more about SOI® and Keystone’s partnership with Single Organizing Idea can help transform and enhance your work, sign up for our SOI® updates here or contact us by email at info@singleorganizingidea.org or

The CORE Playbook is available through all major stockist. You can buy a copy here !