How We Build a Brand for Good

It’s hard to believe, but NOVA Lab is now in its fourth iteration.  We started the class in 2016-17with a semester-long prototype called “Design Lab.”  In 2019–2020 we had our first full (though COVID shortened) year and tremendous, serendipitous success.  (Though to be truthful, we did plan for some of that serendipity.)  From Make it 100 to Living Now to The Student Section Podcast, students were able to persevere through a tremendously difficult shift to online emergency learning in March of 2020 and still produce some amazing results.  

In 2020–2021–a year broken by interruptions and the need to navigate through all the weirdness that was “schooling” during a pandemic–we still managed to develop some interesting projects.  Litter Ridder and their app, “Scrap Snatcher,” VR Science Classrooms, Online Chess Tournaments, and Design Thinking classes for Middle School students all happened last year.

I bring these up as a preview to one of the greatest joys of doing good things:  Seeing how the learning and the good things associated with it is multiplied beyond the classroom.

NOVAssociates and NOVAlumni

Last week, eight former NOVA Lab students (“NOVAlumni”) returned to class (in person and on Zoom) to give current “NOVAssociates” some insight into the way they ran their projects, the successes and failures they encountered, and the unique learning that has endured through the years for them.   To a one, the students remarked that the work they did in NOVA Lab has been a huge factor in the direction and trajectory of their lives.  

What’s more, they noted a primary reason they decided to spend two hours of their day on a Zoom call or stepping outside of their scheduled classes to speak to this year’s NOVAssociates was because they recognized the huge sense of gratitude they had for the class they helped to create, and they wanted to make sure that the new students had a chance to succeed more quickly and with a more focused technique than they were able to pull off.

Two years ago guest speakers Phil Holcombe (principal designer at Form & Faculty, Head of Design at Project Wayfinder, and Member of the NOVA Lab Board of Advisors) taught us “your brand is the story people tell about your business when you are not present.”  What last week’s presentation taught us is that the NOVA Lab brand is alive and growing.   We have no doubt that many of our current NOVAssociates will see these NOVAlumni as role models.  And they will return,to bring the same insights and arguments about the class to future students.  

Play Ball!

Last week I published the second edition of the “Do Good Things” Newsletter/blog post. In it, I spoke about the great good work of “Coach Ballgame,” James Lowe. Today, I have the pleasure of releasing the first episode (it’s rough…but beautiful) of our “Doing Good Things” podcast featuring Coach Ballgame.

If you have a cup of coffee, some time, and the desire to be moved by someone who is doing beautiful work in the world, then please take a listen/watch to our first episode.

‘Atta Boy!

Issue #2 of the Do Good Things Newsletter has us looking across the continent for a person, a company, or a corporation doing good things. In our first issue we looked at one of the world’s most successful companies, Lego, and how they are leveraging the power of their brand to bring play and creativity to children in need.

This week we’re looking to California and the great good works being done by a young man with a love for what was once, “America’s Pastime”–Baseball.  Now, I never played organized ball, but I still have my old glove, and I played years and years of catch, pickup games, and I practiced pitching almost every night in the summer.  I loved the game. ‘Loved the smell of leather and oil, my mouth full of gum, the thrill of tracking a deep flyball, and the satisfying smack of the ball in the glove’s pocket.

While my own children never took to the game, I’ve spent many nights (re)watching The Sandlot.

So a few months ago, when I stumbled on the YouTube channel of James Lowe (A.K.A. “Coach Ballgame”), I was teleported back to my youth.  If I had known there was a Coach Ballgame out there in my neck of the woods, I probably would have spent my years playing baseball as well as soccer.  

What James does so well, is bring the joie de vivre of the game to kids who otherwise might not get to play organized ball.  His mission is to “restore an ardor for America’s pastime.” But it’s so much more than that. He is teaching sportsmanship, character, and bringing such a joy for the game to young children that it’s utterly infectious.  

It is rare to find people who have so connected their passion with a purpose that they live their lives “in the element,” but when you see it, it is unmistakable. They are numinous.  Their every move is fluid. Their words evoke life itself.  

James Lowe, “Coach Ballgame,” is such a person.  I swear to you, you cannot help but smile when you watch him coaching baseball.

On Wednesday, December 8, Coach Ballgame will spend the early morning hours of his California day bringing his story to the students of NOVA Lab.  

As we venture forth in this marking period on our own purposeful projects, projects driven by passion that serve the needs of a community larger than ourselves, we will always be looking for role models. I am grateful to be able to bring the Good Work of Coach Ballgame to NOVA Lab.

Social Media Information for Coach Ballgame:

Tik Tok:
PodBean Podcats:

So I Started a Newsletter

Yeah, I know it’s not original, it might not even be something that’s sustainable for me, though I can get help from the members of NOVA Lab, I’m sure. (We’re all about encouraging and helping each other.)

Dubbed the “Do Good Things” Newsletter, I was inspired by the confluence of my most recent blog post and Lego.

It feels good to write this. I’m looking forward to this every week.

Subscribe to for more learning goodness throughout the week, month, and year.

From Great to Good

I was reading today in the Daily Stoic about what mattered to Marcus Aurelius…what things for him were marks of success:  good character and acting for the common Good.

My musings on Marcus got me to thinking about how I might rebrand a bit in NOVA Lab  

For the past two years, I’ve issued a daily call to my NOVA Lab students to “go do great things.”  But in thinking over what Marcus Aurelius said, I am wondering if “do great things” is too much license.  Great things might be accomplished in many ways, and those ends might justify means I wouldn’t want to justify.  

So I thought about “Do Good Things.” 

I love the ambiguity there.  At first it seems like the statement of an underachiever, like “good enough.”  What entrepreneur would consider only ever being good?: “I make good soup.”  “I make good apps.”  Perhaps that’s a valid criticism.

We do live in an age of superlatives, and maybe we can thank PT Barnum for that, or the advantage of America’s ascension to dominance in the 20th century.   Whatever it is, it seems our want to be the best, the biggest, the greatest.   And I wonder if in doing that we’ve missed the fact that great rests upon good.  If the foundation isn’t good, if the core motive, the root cause is not “good,” then “great” becomes a facade, a label, a mere entreaty without moral intention.

So the rebranding, strange as it may seem, is to step back and step down in order to step up. I want to tell my students to do “good things.” Because, in the end, that’s actually what I want.  That’s the goal of Social Impact design.  And we can do that, and know that, and measure that, I think, if we at least agree on moral standards of what it means to “do good.”

Some might look to this with cynicism,  perhaps even a bit of derision, “Who is he to believe that by doing good things he could change the world.”  I’ll take that challenge.  I want to live knowing I tried to do all I could to make the world a better place rather than simply bettering my own place in the world.