You are on page 1of 14


The Toolbox
Strategy Tools from Business, Science, and Politics1
By Jacob Harold

I. Synopsis
Too many times we have heard, “if all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks
like a nail.” Too many books offer more hammers: tipping points, fractals, and
black swans. And the world continues to look like a nail. This project offers a
toolbox, so the world may look like an opportunity. The Toolbox organizes and
describes the most powerful strategy tools from business, science, and politics—and
shows the reader where, when, and how each tool is most useful.

II. Project description
People use different tools to think about problems and act to solve them. A
scientist searches for fractal patterns in a data set. A business executive changes
pricing to build their customer base. A political activist builds an unexpected
coalition to earn media attention.

Business, science, and politics all offer insights which are applicable to other parts
of the human experience. But their tools of understanding and execution have
never been presented in one, simple, comparable framework. The Toolbox will offer
that synthesis.


See Section IX for alternate titles.
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.


The first chapter will offer the reader context: cross-sector learning is by no means
new, but technological, economic, and demographic shifts have made it all the
more urgent. Any serious professional will need to understand the tools and
frameworks of multiple sectors. Just like in a toolbox, some tools are for
understanding (tape measure, magnifying glass, level) and others are for doing
(screwdriver, wrench, chisel). The Toolbox is both guidebook and textbook,
describing in detail nine tools—from storytelling to mathematical modeling to
markets. Those descriptions take up the middle nine of the book’s eleven chapters.
The final chapter will be a capstone, offering case studies on ventures that have
tied multiple tools together: the civil rights movement, Google, and the 2008
Obama-Biden campaign. The simple hope is this: upon reading The Toolbox, no
reader will find that the world still looks like a nail.

III. Market analysis
There are millions of professionals and citizens President Barack Obama’s
in search of tools to help them be effective— campaign was an archetypal
they are local government officials, example of the ethos of The
entrepreneurs, nonprofit managers, school Toolbox. His campaign’s
teachers, investors, and corporate executives. integration of techniques from
grassroots organizing,
In the business world, this has inspired an entire behavioral economics, and
industry—with classics by Jim Collins, Peter storytelling was an exercise in
Drucker, Michael Porter, and others selling by finding the right tools for the
the millions. The business press has produced right moments. The public
great insight and remains a thriving market, one was already searching for a
that The Toolbox would fit in cleanly. In recent way to understand this
years, there has been a related phenomenon: profusion of tools—and the
the explosion of the One Idea Book. Exemplified time of the Obama
by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, these administration will only
books take one tool or framework and use it to heighten that need. The
describe the functioning of people, Toolbox offers a timely
organizations, and the world. At their worst, answer. Further, The Toolbox
they attempt to explain the entire world through is consistent with the type of
one lens (always a fool’s errand). At their best practical intellectualism which
defines President Obama’s
work—the embrace of ideas
not for their own sake but
because ideas allow us to do
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

they provide the reader one new tool to use to explain the world—without claiming

A well-written One Idea Book offers the reader great depth and texture through
examples and exposition. But the reader can usually grasp the One Idea after the
first chapter, if not the back cover. They are deep without being wide. The Toolbox
is an attempt to synthesize these many One Ideas, but is a One Idea Book, as well.
The Toolbox is built upon the idea that different situations require different tools.
Such tools (One Ideas) can be presented in a coherent, comparable format—and are
far more usable when presented as an organized group.

Many recent notable One Idea Books have dealt with economics, such as
Freakonomics, Nudge, and The Black Swan. But there is a long history of such
books, and they also come from politics (Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, Saul
Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, Milton Friedman’s Capitalism) and science (James
Gleick’s Chaos, Fritzof Capra’s The Tao of Physics, and E.O. Wilson’s Consilience.)

IV. Audience and marketing plan
I travel often, and find myself in airport bookstores. If well-executed and generously
marketed, I believe this book offers the potential to be an airport bookstore
bestseller. It matches the need of the busy professional to quickly but coherently
synthesize the endless torrent of ideas and frameworks. In addition to that practical
purpose, this book meets the rising desire for a new intellectual framework for
engaging with complex problems: a language for doing ambitious things in the 21st

In general, I believe in micro-targeting an audience, but by its very nature this book
aims for a broad, educated readership. The target reader for The Toolbox is a
professional trying to solve a complex problem in a complex context. Most
obviously, businesspeople—whether small business owners, aspirational executives,
or established leaders—need smart strategy to succeed in the marketplace. The
marketing plan would, thus, begin with the standard channels of business
publishing. But it would not end there. Jim Collins found that the largest single
group of his readers were nonprofit executives (who total ~5 million in the US
alone)—and they may find The Toolbox particularly relevant given the cross-sector
nature of nonprofit work. Government officials (elected and unelected), labor union
leaders, teachers and attorneys are all struggling to understand how to succeed in
an increasingly complicated world. None of these professionals have enough time
to read all of the One Idea books. Each group needs an intellectually coherent
synthesis such as The Toolbox and would deserve a targeted marketing effort.

One need only think of Marx, Freud, and Darwin to be reminded that One Idea Books are
not a new phenomenon—though the market for those books has certainly evolved.
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

The Toolbox is in part a textbook. It could be a valuable part of syllabi in courses
from business strategy to nonprofit management to public policy to political
science. (My essays and papers have been used as course materials at Stanford,
Duke, Oxford, Wharton, and Harvard.)

In addition to the marketing power of a top publisher, I can bring a number of
resources to bear on the marketing of the book. I have a broad international
network, with hundreds of influential people who like me and trust me (or owe me
favors!)3 I believe I could capitalize on these relationships to help promote the book
across multiple overlapping networks. I’m very prepared to go on an extensive
book tour and have experience with public speaking (I’ve spoken on dozens of
panels) and media interviews (I’ve done many in my career). In addition, I have a
modest but growing Web 2.0 footprint (400 Twitter followers, 500 Facebook friends,
guest posts on four blogs including The Huffington Post, and a personal website

V. Personal note
Personal biography can be a distraction in nonfiction. My life, though, so closely
parallels the intellectual arc of this book that I believe it is worth briefly noting here.
My life has ended up being a search for tools.

I grew up in a farm house in North Carolina with hippie parents—outside surrounded
by corn fields and woods, inside surrounded by books on theology, physics, and
history. I spent college looking for truth in philosophy, mathematics, and religion,
designing my own major at Duke in intellectual history from Duke. I wrote about
the role of geometry in Borges and lived in the mountains of India translating the
18th century poetry of the 6th Dalai Lama.

I graduated summa cum laude but found myself frustrated by abstraction without
action. So I trained as a grassroots organizer with Green Corps and entered the
world of radical political action to fight global warming. I dodged tear gas, chained
myself to a fence for Greenpeace and hounded Gore, Bush, and McCain.

I hesitate to name-drop and so in a failed attempt at modesty I will put this in a footnote: I
have close relationships with influential consultants, Silicon Valley venture capitalists,
cutting-edge social entrepreneurs, well-respected scientists and physicians. I am friends
with prominent people in the nonprofit sector (from the CEOs of Greenpeace and
MoveOn.Org to senior executives at most of the country’s largest foundations). In addition,
several friends work in publishing and journalism and have access to key media outlets (e.g.,
a very close friend has written a dozen book reviews for the Los Angeles Times).
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

After four years, I found myself in a suit speaking on behalf of a coalition of
environmental groups at Ford Motor Company’s 100th anniversary shareholders’
meeting.4 There I realized that my toolkit was insufficient; I did not yet know how to
influence the truly powerful. So I went to Stanford Business School to study with
the hedge fund managers, investment banking wizards, and McKinsey consultants
who run our economy and our institutions.5 I led the first major effort to integrate
discussion of climate change into the business school curriculum.6 Then, after
getting my MBA, I spent a summer in Beijing studying complex systems science at
the Chinese Academy of Sciences under some of the world’s great physicists,
biologists, and computer scientists.7 After returning to the US, I joined The
Bridgespan Group, a spin-off from Bain and Company and the leading organization
for translating techniques from business to nonprofit management. Three years
ago, I was privileged to be invited to join the $6 billion William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation, where, at 28, I was the Foundation’s youngest program officer. I found
myself leading the Foundation’s efforts to fix the broken systems market for
nonprofit donations. Over the last three years I have overseen $20 million in grants
working to transform the $300 billion market for donations to nonprofits. We have
been driven by one question: what would it take for the best nonprofits—not just the
ones with slick marketing campaigns—to be the ones to raise the most money?8

I am now 32 and this lucky string of experiences has exposed me to a broad set of
tools for creating change. This book draws directly on those experiences—and in
particular on a set of mentors, teachers, colleagues, and friends who have shared
deep insight on their chosen tools. I would hope to integrate some personal
anecdotes from this journey in order to ease the path of the reader—and am sure
that my experience will help me offer a cogent and grounded framework.

VI. Structure
I acknowledge that I am proposing an ambitious project. The Toolbox is an attempt
at immense intellectual synthesis—while also striving to be practical. For it to be
intelligible to the reader, it must be structured with great care.

For a case study on my work with Rainforest Action Network see:
In light of the economic crisis: “…run our economy and institutions into the ground”.
For more detail on this project see:
The “Complex Systems Summer School” program associated with the Santa Fe Institute.
For a case study on this work see:
Document_ID=3061. Also see my work with McKinsey on this project, available at
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

As noted above, the book will be 11 chapters. The first is an introduction to the
driving ideas of and context for the book. The final chapter is a set of case studies
and a discussion of the implications of tool-driven politics. The middle nine chapters
are the tools themselves, one for each cell in a 3x3 matrix.

The toolbox is built around a 3x3 matrix, with meaning embedded in both the
columns and rows. The columns represent sectors of society—business, science,
politics. The rows are levels of analysis—individual, organization, society. Each of
the nine chapters will follow a consistent structure:
• Description of the tool
• Illustrative example
• Detailed explanation of key concepts and specific frameworks
• Uses and limitations of the tool

Further, each chapter will have a set of parallel sidebars and illustrations:
• An emblematic visual illustration of the concept
• Exemplary quote for chapter frontispiece
• Founding books and thinkers (both academic and popular)
• A critical related concept

The reader’s journey through the book will be aided by including a consistent color
scheme: the columns color-coded and the rows delineated by shading. The
framework is flexible and can be cross-referenced in multiple ways. For example,
the graphic below displays this basic framework as it relates to a set of “one idea

Archetypal “One Idea Books” mapped on to the
Toolbox Matrix
User-centered designBehavioral
The Visual Display of economics
Influence Don’t Think of an
Quantitative Nudge
Individuals Elephant
Information (Richard Thaler and
(George Lakoff)
(Edward Tufte) Cass Sunstein)
Strengthen Strategic planning modeling
Organization Managing for Results Freakonomics
Rules for Radicals
s (Peter Drucker) (Steven Levitt and
(Saul Alinksy)
Stephen Dubner)
Markets Systems theory Public policy
The World is Flat The Tipping Point The Radical Center
(Thomas Friedman) (Malcolm Gladwell) (Halstead and Lind)
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

I would like to keep the book to around 300 pages. The laws of arithmetic will thus
keep discussion of each tool focused and relatively shallow. But that will force a
discipline which is aligned with the broad spirit of the book. If the reader wishes to
explore a given tool more, sidebars will direct them to further reading and
additional content that I will create for the book site. .

VII. Format and style
In addition to a clear structure, success will require clear writing, careful editing, a
profusion of examples, and enough humility to not throw in the kitchen sink.
Moreover, the huge quantity of concepts and the interrelations among them will
require creative visual support—with dozens of diagrams, charts, sidebars, quotes,
and photos. For this reason, this book will require world-class graphic design. It
would be possible to do this book as pure linear text—but the potential of The
Toolbox will only be met if its words are interrelated with its visuals. The inclusion
of such visuals also means that the book would probably be best served by a
slightly larger form factor than a typical text-heavy nonfiction book.

To further aid the reader’s uptake, each chapter should have a paired illustration
and emblem. For example, a classic image for the concept of storytelling is people
gathered around a fire listening to a storyteller. Thus, the storytelling chapter could
begin with an illustration of people circling a fire, enraptured by a storyteller, and
each page could be marked by a small fire logo.

The writing style of the book will be similar to this proposal: mostly direct and clear,
with sprinkled use of metaphor, story, image, and humor to ease the path of the
reader. I like to think that I am an intellectual and write like one, but will not
hesitate to include a pop culture reference if I think it effectively makes the point. I
have also spent enough time in outcome-focused organizations to be forced to learn
write clearly, but hope that I have read enough poetry to know how to add richness
and emotion when appropriate. As is probably clear in this document, I have a clear
sense of what I would like to do with this book.

All that said, I would very much benefit from a good agent and editor to help me
craft something that will serve the needs of the market and my readers. I have
already gotten feedback from three dozen of the smartest people I know (and who
represent diverse backgrounds) and have gathered further feedback from through
my website

VIII. Inspiration
This idea stands upon the shoulders of many giants, including:

If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

• A set of recent “One Idea Books”—The Tipping Point, Nudge, Freakonomics,
The Black Swan—have brilliantly made complex ideas accessible. They are
emblematic of the practical intellectualism which drives The Toolbox. They
are successful because they are crisp, direct, creative, and use stories to
explain complex ideas.
• The Whole Earth Catalog, in its many manifestations, is an intellectual
grandfather of The Toolbox. The Toolbox aspires to be a 21st century ideas
version of the Catalog.
• Bill Bryson’s best-seller A Brief History of Nearly Everything lives up to its title
as a well-organized and energetically-written history of science. It is a
summary work that doesn’t compromise intellectual integrity or writerly
• Edward Tufte’s work—such as The Visual Representation of Quantitative
Information and Beautiful Evidence—brilliantly integrates a theory of
visualization with guidance on the practice of representing data. It is
incredibly pleasant to hold his books in your hands. Every page is rich with
beauty and information. The form of Tufte’s books reflects their content, a
parallelism The Toolbox would aspire to emulate.
• Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power provides an avalanche of examples of
techniques (mostly Machivellian) to gain power. Each of the 48 chapters
offers at least three examples from history to illustrate the “law of power”
explained in the chapter.
• For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today by
Jededdiah Purdy offered me a different kind of inspiration. While I do not fully
agree with Purdy’s critique of modern American irony, his was the first high-
profile book of ideas written by someone of my generation, and I took great
comfort in the way he attempted to weave in his own story with his ideas.
• The Toolbox itself is a simple matrix representation and takes inspiration
from other useful matrices. The most famous such matrix is from chemistry,
the Periodic Table of the Elements. Such matrices can be found throughout
society. For example, the BCG Growth-Share Matrix is often used to help
businesses make internal investment decisions. The Wilson-Lowi Matrix helps
understand the costs and benefits facing various constituencies of a political

IX. Alternative titles
A work of synthesis needs a good title. The title has to capture the idea of the book
and offer the reader a metaphor or image to help them as they read the book.
That’s why I’ve chosen “The Toolbox.” However, there might be a better idea, and
there are arguments for other possibilities. Alternate titles include:
• Strategy 201

If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

 The lessons outlined in this proposal are, in essence, advanced strategy.
The content could easily be framed as a curriculum in sophisticated
approaches to problem solving.
• If All You Have is a Hammer, Get a Toolbox
 This title puts the argument directly in the title, instead of just offering a
single image.
• The Impact Toolbox or The Results Toolbox
 These add a modifier to focus on the results generated by application of
these ideas
• The Lensbox
 In the current structure, the book is framed as nine tools for action—but it
could also be framed as nine lenses for understanding.
• The Fox Toolbox
 This is a reference to Isaiah Berlin’s comment, “XXX”. It is also a gentle
dig at Jim Collins and his famous “Hedgehog Concept”.
• The Mule-Fox Toolbox
 This title brings out the two core concepts of the book: a mule is stubborn
in his focus on a goal and a fox scampers around looking for the best
approach. It has the mimetic advantage of rhyming but also risks being
perceived as being unserious

Alternate subtitles include:
• Tools for Leadership and Learning from Business, Science, and Politics
• What You'll Need to Fix Everything in Your Organization and its Impact
• A Blueprint for Strategy from Society’s Great Institutions

X. Outline9

Chapter One: Introduction
1. The flux of the social contract: the intertwining roles of business, science,
politics in the 21st century
2. Illustrative example of the fundamental confusion between means and ends
3. How Generations X and Y consequently view means and ends differently from
Baby Boomers
4. On the structure of ideas and the structure of this book
5. Acknowledgement of and respect for tools not discussed in detail (art,
religion, history, law, the military)
There is, of course, little doubt that this outline will evolve significantly.

If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.


Chapter Two: User-centered design
1. Illustration: Perfectly-balanced water pitcher
2. Key concepts:
a. Clarity (purpose and user-orientation)
b. Simplicity (focus, reduction, organization)
c. Rapid prototyping (methods for collective design)
d. Human interface (use, emotion, and experience)
e. Systems design (from products to processes)
3. Case study: iPod
4. Related concept: Visualization
5. Quote: “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” — Joe Sparano
6. Key academic authors: Edward Tufte, John Maeda, David Kelley
7. Key popular authors: Bill McDonough, Tom Peters, Frank Lloyd Wright
8. Flip side: Social engineering

Chapter Three: Strategic planning
9. Illustration: Columbus sailing to the New World10
10.Key concepts:
a. Goal designation (focus, venue analysis)
b. Strategy (theory of change, logic model)
c. Resource alignment (operations, business planning)
d. Scenario planning (mapping possible futures, risk profiles)
e. Stakeholder analysis (Wilson-Lowi Matrix)
11.Case study: Climate Works Foundation
12.Related concept: Evaluation (formative and summative)
13.Quote: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else."
— Yogi Berra
14.Key academic authors: Peter Drucker, Michael Porter
15.Key popular authors: Sun Tzu, Jim Collins
16.Flip side: Opportunism to respond to the unexpected

Chapter Four: Markets
1. Illustration: People tasting fruit at a farmers’ market
2. Key concepts:
a. Resource allocation (supply, demand, architecture)
b. Pricing (auctions, information)
c. Creation and destruction (entry, exit, mergers, acquisitions)
d. Market failure (externalities, tragedy of the commons, public goods)
3. Case study: eBay
4. Related concept: Blended value
Citing Paul Brest’s lecture on strategy.
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

5. Quote: “The marketplace obliges men, whether they will or not, in pursuing
their own selfish interests, to connect the general good with their own
individual success.” — Edmund Burke
6. Key academic authors: Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, John Kenneth Galbraith,
Karl Marx
7. Key popular authors: Thomas Friedman, Ronald Reagan
8. Flip side: Markets have no heart, nor are they goal-oriented


Chapter Five: Behavioral economics
1. Illustration: Stanford Prison Experiment
2. Key concepts:
a. Incentives (rational choice theory and the realities of human behavior)
b. Behavior and bias (social proof, reciprocity, anchoring)
c. Nudging (opt-in vs. opt-out, information availability)
d. Judgment (from instinct to decision trees)
e. Game theory (Prisoner’s Dilemma, repeated games)
3. Case study: Positive Energy LLC
4. Related concept: Evolutionary psychology
5. Quote: “Behavior is what a man does, not what he thinks, feels, or believes”
— Emily Dickinson
6. Key academic authors: Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, Stanley Milgram
7. Key popular authors: Robert Cialdini, Richard Thaler, Cass Sunstein
8. Flip side: Manipulation

Chapter Six: Mathematical modeling
1. Illustration: Gathering pennies to become a millionaire
2. Key concepts:
a. Arithmetic of Scale (are we in the right ballpark?)
b. Algebra of planning (how do we model our success?)
c. Calculus of change (what happens over time?)
d. Ratios and proportions (relating data points to each other)
e. Statistics (significance, correlation vs. causation)
3. Case study: College Summit
4. Related concept: Mapping and visualization
5. Quote: “It is easy to lie with statistics, but it is easier to lie without them.” —
Frederick Mosteller
6. Key academic authors: Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, Emile Durkheim
7. Key popular authors: Robert Norton, David Kaplan, Stephen Dubner and
Steven Levitt
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

8. Flip side: Difficulty of defining variables, collecting data, and tracking risk

Chapter Seven: Systems theory
1. Illustration: Butterfly flapping its wings and changing the weather
2. Key concepts:
a. Complexity (emergent properties, fractals)
b. Feedback loops (vicious and virtuous circles)
c. Evolution (natural selection, genetics)
d. Critical mass (tipping points)
9. Case study: US nonprofit marketplace
10.Related concept: Network theory
11.Quote: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I
would give my life for the simplicity of the other side of complexity." — Oliver
Wendell Holmes
12.Key academic authors: Charles Darwin, Norbert Weiner, Murray Gell-Mann,
John Holland
13.Key popular authors Malcolm Gladwell, James Gleick, Fritzof Kapra, Eric
14.Flip side: Unpredictability


Chapter Eight: Storytelling
1. Illustration: People gathered around a fire to hear stories
2. Key concepts:
a. Narrative arc (exposition, complication, climax, resolution)
b. Characters (antagonists and protagonists)
c. Language (jargon, connotation, denotation)
d. Strategic communications (framing, message control)
3. Case study: Reagan revolution
4. Related concept: Myth
5. Quote: “’Thou shat not’ is soon forgotten, but ‘Once upon a time’ lasts
forever.”— Phil Pullman
6. Key academic authors: George Lakoff, Carl Jung, Roland Barthes
7. Key popular authors: Joan Didion, Joseph Campbell, Pete Seeger
8. Flip side: Stories aren’t data

Chapter Nine: Grassroots organizing
1. Illustration: Lone organizer knocking on doors
2. Key concepts:
a. Organizing (relationship-building from elites to the powerless)
b. Community (networks, common stories, community mobilization)
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

c. Leveraging relationships (rule of halves, volunteers, coalitions)
d. Empowerment (identity politics, symbolic protest)
3. Case study: Caesar Chavez and United Farmworkers’ Movement
4. Related concept: Advocacy
5. Quote: “What? You seek something? You wish to multiply yourself tenfold, a
hundredfold? You seek followers? Seek zeros!” — Friedrich Nietzsche
6. Key academic authors: Karl Marx, Lawrence Goodwyn, Charles Payne
7. Key popular authors: Saul Alinsky, Naomi Klein
8. Flip side: Resource-intensity

Chapter Ten: Public policy
1. Illustration: Buildings lining the US National Mall
2. Key concepts:
a. Social contract (flux in institutional roles, countervailing forces, the
b. Governance (principle-agent problem, transparency, institutional
capture, longevity, bureaucracy)
c. Regulation (market failures, subsidies, taxation, lobbying, partial
outsourcing to civil society)
d. Culture (substructure for collective behavior, media, decentralized
content creation)
3. Case study: Interdisciplinarity at Stanford University
4. Related concept: public institutions (universities, nonprofits, foundations)
5. Quote: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other
forms.” — Winston Churchill
6. Key academic authors: Plato, John Stuart Mill, John Locke, Jean-Jacques
7. Key popular authors: Ted Halstead, Michael Lind, Al Gore
8. Flip side: Calcified bureaucracies


Chapter Eleven: Integration
1. Discussion of emerging cross themes
2. How to pick the right tool(s) for a given situation
3. Brief case studies on the integration of multiple tools:
a. US civil rights movement
b. Google
c. 2008 Obama-Biden campaign
4. Call to action: the new politics of tools
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

influence BEHAVIORAL
individuals ECONOMICS