Nothing Mad Here: Goggles On For A Look At Little Things Labs


One of the most encouraging movements to witness throughout technology startups is the expanding conversation about social entrepreneurship. The term has become somewhat of a big tent that houses diverse projects and individuals, but at heart, it harkens to a recognition that enacting positive social changes should be a central component of everyday business.




Customers want to give their dollars to businesses that contribute to the betterment of the world – and have grown more savvy as to how to direct their money toward companies that they feel align with their own values. Young entrepreneurs wish to tackle global problems that threaten our peace, prosperity, and habitat. Regardless if a prospective venture is a for-profit enterprise or not, would be social entrepreneurs would serve their own purposes well to consider the example of Josh McManus and the Really Big Things he’s doing at Little Things Labs.



Little Thing No.4 from Little Things Labs on Vimeo.



Give A Damn And Act Accordingly

McManus is the Chief Inventor in charge at Little Things. He and his team partner with other leaders of nonprofits, businesses, and foundations in post-industrial cities to address social problems and economic opportunities. To match the scale of ambitions and purpose, the crew has developed a robust system for tackling projects.





Modeled after the laboratories of Edison, Eames, Bell and Wright, the approach at Little Things is designed to pair hard work with invention. In an interview with Forbes, McManus comments, “…studying my heroes, I understand that innovation is actually work. Innovation involves rigor and process and sustained attack on defined problems.” (Check out the full interview for a brilliant take on the differences between invention, innovation, and integration.)


Here’s a brief rundown of how the Little Things Labs process unfolds:

  • choose a problem
  • identify champions
  • determine strengths
  • fall in love with problem
  • observe problem in the wild
  • perform intensive research
  • seek wise counsel
  • create
  • develop your process
  • set goals
  • build a budget
  • plan an end
  • package and design
  • build a coalition
  • gather resources
  • take action
  • measure progress
  • document lessons
  • give it all away
  • repeat


Frameworks For Dreaming

McManus and co. are currently setting up shop in Detroit, building a welcoming storefront that connects talented locals and provides them with space and resources. Past projects include experiments to empower artists and entrepreneurs in Chattanooga, and to beautify a business district in Cincinnati while lifting economic activity.





Inspiration is another word tossed around the startup scene. The Little Things Lab in action truly inspires. As a model for collaboration, for solving difficult problems, or for implementing a cross-disciplinary approach, there is much to be learned from them. See for yourself, or invite them to your neighborhood to experience Really Big Things yourself.


Photo Credits

Little Things Lab