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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.


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.

Register here to be notified when you can purchase, IMPACT: Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation.


Continue the #impact6 conversation with @aletmanski

What’s the creation story behind every social innovation?

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SiG Note: This article was originally published on The Melting Pot Website.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

Disruption AheadSocial innovators are often the disrupters, the ones who swim against the tide and question the status quo.  We may find them uncomfortable and challenging, but these people are also inspiring, determined and resilient.

Take the ‘Social Innovator personality test.’ How many of these needed core skills and qualities do you have?

Making connections * causing disruptions * having persistence and a critical mindset * clarity of vision * courage of your convictions * an ability to learn and reflect * to take risks and experiment * question results * have focus, but also openness * and, of course – the ability to “sell.”

During 2014, The Melting Pot initiated a collaborative enquiry process into social innovation and how it might flourish in Scotland.

Gatherings took place from Inverness to Edinburgh. Using ‘The Art of Hosting’ participatory processes, we dived into understanding the cultural conditions that help or hinder people, communities and organisations of all sizes who have a passion for creating solutions to our pressing eco-social challenges.

You can read more about our findings here. For fun, here are the recommendations turned on their head.  

How to kill social innovation in 5 easy steps!

First – spot those disrupters and put them down – go on, tell them their mad ideas won’t work.  These non-conformers who wish to do something different are a nuisance with their radical notions. Their dreams are too big, too complex.  They don’t know what they’re doing and it will certainly never make any money!

Second – don’t assist those disruptors, or offer them a chance to collaborate. Keep yourself to yourself.  Don’t move out of your comfort zone, talk to, or help anyone!  Don’t go out of your way to make connections or introductions, you might catch something – like a scary new proposition…

Third – seek out the answers to our societal problems from another place, somewhere like London, New York or Shanghai. Those disruptive ideas under your nose, on your doorstep, the ones that take account of the cultural fit can’t be any good, can they? And anyway, it’s more fun to go on international jollies (sorry, I mean learning journeys).

Forth – never accept anyone else’s wisdom, or seek to learn form them. What do they know anyway? There’s no point taking time out of your busy schedule to reflect on your learning – you’ve just got to keep doing – at all costs.

Fifth – work from your bedroom, alone – you can’t afford anywhere nice and professional to work anyway, not on what is invested into the social innovation pipeline. Yes we need jobs, but they can only be produced from companies that focus on economic growth, not social capital.

Now forget all that. For social innovation to thrive in Scotland, we must create a culture to:

  1. Encourage – literally lend courage and support to – those seeking to address inequality, those who are questioning the status quo, creating disruption and taking risks.
  2. Foster connections, creativity and the generation of ideas amongst innovators in all sectors.  Enabling genuine participation and collaboration across sectors releases socially innovative ideas.
  3. Cultivate local solutions where social innovators can work with communities to define and co-design solutions within their community context.
  4. Create safe places and spaces for learning, reflection and sharing all the stories: the successes, the tricky moments, the failures, the highs and the lows of experience.
  5. Invest in social innovation – provide the physical resources to enable social innovators to work with focus, purpose, determination and persistence. 

Melting PotThe Melting Pot would like to thank the Scottish Government for commissioning this work, so that our policy makers can better harness our people’s talents, energy and ideas to make Scotland flourish.

Find out more about The Melting Pot, Scotland’s Centre for Social Innovation, and our Social Innovation Incubation Award programme (all disrupters please apply!).

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