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

I. Synopsis
It is often said, “if all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.”
Countless books offer more hammers: tipping points, fractals, and black swans.
And, so 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
business executive changes pricing to build their customer base. A scientist
searches for fractal patterns in a data set. 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.



Or, If All You Have is a Hammer, Get a Toolbox: Tools for Leadership and Learning from
Business, Science, and Politics, or The Impact Toolbox, or The Lensbox, or some other better
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—outlined in the matrix
above. 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.

President Barack Obama’s

III. Market analysis campaign was an archetypal
example of the ethos of The
There are millions of professionals and citizens Toolbox. His campaign’s
in search of tools to help them be effective— integration of techniques from
they are local government officials, grassroots organizing,
entrepreneurs, nonprofit managers, school behavioral economics,
teachers, investors, and corporate executives. information technology, and
storytelling was an exercise in
In the business world, this has inspired an entire finding the right tools for the
industry—with classics by Jim Collins, Peter right moments. The public
Drucker, Michael Porter, and others selling by was already searching for a
the millions. The business press has produced way to understand this
great insight and remains a thriving market, one profusion of tools—and the
that The Toolbox would fit in cleanly. In recent time of the Obama
years, there has been a related phenomenon: administration will only
the explosion of the One Idea Book. Exemplified heighten that need. The
by Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, these Toolbox offers a timely
books take one tool or framework and use it to answer. Further, The Toolbox
describe the functioning of people, is consistent with the type of
organizations, and the world. At their worst, practical intellectualism which
they attempt to explain the entire world through defines President Obama’s
one lens (always a fool’s errand). At their best 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.

(like Gladwell’s work) they provide the reader one new tool to use to explain the
world—without claiming universality.2

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. 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.)

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 desire for a new intellectual framework for engaging
with complex problems, a language to describe how to do ambitious things in the
21st century. In general, I believe in micro-targeting an audience, but by its very
nature this book aims for a broad, educated readership. In section V, below, I also
discuss how my own personal biography may help readers connect with the
substance of the book—and, if deemed appropriate, serve as a marketing tool.

IV. Structure
I acknowledge that I am proposing an
ambitious project. The Toolbox is an attempt Behavioral
centered Storytelling
at immense intellectual synthesis—while also economics
striving to be practical. For it to be intelligible Strategic Mathematical Community
to the reader, it must be structured with great planning modeling organizing
care. Markets Systems theory Public policy

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

It is worth noting that One Idea Books are not a new phenomenon—consider Marx, Freud,
and Darwin.
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

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 design Behavioral
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.

V. 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 am in the process of systematically gathering
feedback from an additional set through my website thetoolbox.squarespace.com.

VI. Personal note

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

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 my 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— writing on the role of geometry in Borges and living in the mountains
of India translating the 18th century poetry of the 6th Dalai Lama. Frustrated by
abstraction without action, 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, spoke at Ford Motor Company’s
100th anniversary shareholders’ meeting, and hounded Gore, Bush, and McCain.3

After four years, I realized 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
hedge fund managers, investment banking wizards, and McKinsey consultants who
run our economy and our institutions.4 I led a major effort to integrate discussion of
climate change into the business school curriculum.5 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.6 I then joined The Bridgespan Group, 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 managing the Foundation’s efforts to fix the many systemic flaws in the
philanthropy sector. Over the last three years I have overseen $20 million in grants
working to restructure the marketplace for nonprofit donations so that the strongest
organizations raise the most money, not just the ones that have the slickest
marketing materials or the biggest brand.7

I am now 31 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

For a case study on my work with Rainforest Action Network see:
Update: “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:
https://gsbapps.stanford.edu/cases/detail1.asp?Document_ID=3061. Also see
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

anecdotes to ease the path of the reader, though I absolutely intend this to be a
book about ideas.

VII. Inspiration
This idea stands upon the shoulders of many giants, including:
• 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.
• 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 science, 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

VIII. Outline8
There is, of course, no doubt that this outline will evolve significantly.

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


Chapter One: Introduction

1. The fundamental confusion between means and ends
2. The flux of the social contract: the intertwining roles of business, science,
politics in the 21st century
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)


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 World9
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
Citing Paul Brest’s lecture on strategy.
If all you have is a hammer, get a toolbox.

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

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

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)
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


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

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


centered Storytelling
Strategic Mathematical Community
planning modeling organizing
Markets Public policy