The purpose of institutions is to generate creativity by organizing human efforts to a common end.

The generative organization of people’s work, then, is not about creating bureaucracy but about creating the networks, systems, principles and practices that allow for human and institutional flourishing.

This page of resources explores the idea of generative organization through essays and stories that illustrate what it looks like in practice. We recommend that you begin with the essays before moving to the stories that follow.

Exploring the idea

What are institutions for? »

David Toole, an associate dean at Duke Divinity School, says their purpose is to generate creativity by organizing human efforts toward a common end.

Youth ministry as a learning laboratory »

A key component in generative organization is investing in the next generation. Institutional leaders can learn about doing that from a successful model of youth ministry that encourages experimentation and innovation, writes Jeffrey Conklin-Miller, the director of Youth Ministry Initiatives at Duke Divinity School.

Seeing the Idea in Practice


Making new music

The Tulsa Symphony Orchestra remade itself by redefining the roles of its musicians and involving the community. Read more »

Credit Union

Credit union doesn't just bank – it teaches

The Latino Community Credit Union is organized to evolve and grow with the changing needs of the community it serves. Read more »


Learning when to replicate a program

Structure and discipline have led to the slow and steady growth of The Posse Foundation, which supports promising students from urban school districts as they head to college.
Read more »

Metro Baptist Church

Courting hundreds of committed volunteers

Metro Baptist Church and its sister nonprofit have leveraged their location and facilities to have an impact on their community that extends beyond the work of their fulltime staff. Read more »


A new model of nonprofit brings together people for systemic change

Strive creates collaborative partnerships among others, in this case to improve education for children in Cincinnati.
Read more »

Recommended resources to learn more

On Thinking Institutionally

Political scientist Hugh Heclo looks at our need for institutions to shape and form us and calls us to think institutionally, which requires an interpretive standpoint of affirmation and trust rather than thinking “about” institutions as an observer or critic.
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Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to do the Right Thing

Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe argue that the use of rules and incentives has gradually eroded wisdom in institutions.
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Social Entrepreneurship

David Bornstein and Susan Davis note that social entrepreneurs create environments in which experimenting -- and talking about, and risking, failure -- is encouraged.
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Team of Rivals

Doris Kearns Goodwin weaves the story of how Lincoln brought together an unlikely cabinet of rivals to lead the nation through its most turbulent time.
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How Great Leaders Inspire Action

Simon Sinek explains critical elements of being generative. His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King and the Wright brothers.
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Pastoral study grants

The Louisville Institute Pastoral Study Project Grant awards grants of up to $20,000 to support individual or collaborative study projects on Christian life, religious practices and institutions, and ideas for the church, communities or the world. Clergy, lay leaders and staff working in diverse Christian contexts in the United States or Canada are eligible to apply. Deadline is August 1.

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