Becoming a Wise Traveller

Are you like me? Do you feel frustrated by the limited impact you and others have had? Do you feel that despite your best efforts, and indeed successes, you have hit a brick wall?

You may have mounted a fierce advocacy campaign, pioneered a social program, mobilized new funds or even changed a law, but the status quo has barely altered. Social and economic justice hasn’t increased. Power hasn’t shifted. The old paradigm survives. And the sharp, distinctive edges of your social innovation are in danger of being eroded, isolated or forgotten.

Credit: Jim Lawrence www.kootenayreflections.com/

Credit: Jim Lawrence

In my experience, lasting impact requires more than coming up with a new idea and proving that it works. It’s more than replicating an innovation in several places.

Novelty isn’t enough. Neither are dedication, hard work, or loyal supporters. Nor is a sophisticated strategy, money, or the most robust application of the latest technology, for that matter.

Are these things essential? Yes.
A good start? Certainly.
But they are not enough to tip a system.

Just because you have a shiny new solution, the world will not beat a path to your door. Enduring social innovation doesn’t spread by accident. We need to deliberately nurture the conditions in which it can flourish.

One of these conditions is to become a wise traveller.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid.  Photo: Bill McLennan.

The Spirit of Haida Gwaii: The Jade Canoe by Bill Reid. Photo: Bill McLennan.

In my new book, Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation, I suggest three types of social innovators – disruptive, bridging and receptive – are required to achieve long-term impact. While each group has its own set of skills, strengths and limitations, they all have one thing in common: they understand the boundaries of their expertise and experience and welcome fellow travellers from organizations and institutions that have complementary skills.

Disruptive innovators are inspired by love and motivated by necessity. They challenge the prevailing way of doing things and shake the lethargy off the status quo. They wrestle a big idea to the ground. And yet, even when they prove that the idea works, it does not easily become the new standard. It can be ignored or misunderstood and may even be perceived as a threat to the system.

It is not easy to move from the margins to the mainstream. That’s why we need bridging innovators. Bridging innovators spot the big ideas surfaced by disruptive innovators. They leverage their connections, reputations and resources to make sure the potential is realized. They translate and interpret the value of a disruptive innovation to the system. Bridging innovators are the necessary link between disruptive innovators and receptive innovators.

Receptive innovators are key to implementing big ideas and spreading solutions far and wide. They have an insider’s knowledge of the key levers to advance an issue within a system. They know the formal and informal channels inside bureaucracy and who the key players are. They are navigators, steering the innovation so that
 it may flourish and become the new standard.

Credit: Komal Minhas for Komedia

The three types of social innovators. Credit: Komal Minhas for Komedia

Wise travellers know they can only go so far on their own. They respect the roles and functions of each type of innovator. They know that social innovations not only emerge from relationships, but also thrive and endure in relationships.

COMING UP

Join Social Innovation Generation, The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and Innoweave on March 12 at 1pm EST for a webinar and in-depth discussion with Al Etmanski on his new book Impact: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.

Register here

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Download the Introduction to IMPACT: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.

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Al Etmanski About Al Etmanski

Al Etmanski is a community organizer, social entrepreneur and author. He is an Ashoka fellow and a faculty member of John McKnight’s Asset-Based Community Development Institute. He is founding partner of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact and co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN). He blogs at www.aletmanski.com. His new book, Impact-Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation is already a Canadian best seller.

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