Monthly Archives: October 2013

Getting to maybe: a practical guide for the social innovator

As part of my exploration deeper into Social Innovation, I read Getting to Maybe

Getting to MaybeFor the social entrepreneurs, the skeptics or the merely curious, Getting to Maybe offers an inviting introduction to social innovation. Practical, poetic, interspersed with grounded case studies and humble advice, authors Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton illuminate the path to getting to maybe.

Let’s cut the jargon – or at least define it – What is Social Innovation?

My personal definition:

“Social innovation is a new product or process that improves human welfare by generating a more effective, efficient, sustainable or fair outcome to an unmet social need.”

Click here for a more complete definition.

Why the title Getting to Maybe?

If you make a conscious effort to follow steps to social innovation, you might just get there; however, there are no promises and outcomes are never guaranteed. Making change, particularly at the systems level, is dependent on a variety of factors, most of which are out of any one individual’s control. And yet the book presents real stories of successful social innovations.

Below are some of my favourite takeaways

Social innovation can be initiated by someone feeling like they have no choice but to act in a way that rejects the status quo. They experience a kind of call to action that is a compelling juxtaposition of opportunity and conviction.

Social innovators are flawed people – not destined individuals, saints or do-gooders.

Social innovators are able to combine reflection and action; they couple analysis and contemplation with vision and commitment.

“Unless we release the resources of time, energy, money and skill locked up in our routines and our institutions on a regular basis, it is hard to create anything new or look at things from a different perspective”
-C.S. Holling: Resilience & the Adaptive Cycle


C.S. Holling’s Adaptive Cycle

To know and be known by the Powerful Stranger. Al Etmanski’s recent speech at the Social Enterprise World Forum unpacks this idea.

When we behave in way that is only good or only bad, we are repressing a part of ourselves, which drains our ability to empathize.

My initial take on it all

There is something satisfying in reading these texts, a kind of deep resonation to emotions I struggle with, like:

  • My conflicting desires to be free and autonomous, while desiring to belong and be directed and approved of. Similar to complexity theory’s paradox of independence and interdependence
  • The comfort of failure. Somehow, when we experience repeated success over time, we lose the very essence of what made us capable of success. We are much more likely to become rigid, egotistical, elitist and lose our capacity to empathize with the less fortunate. We feel urged to protect what we have ‘earned’, and can be consumed by the fear of losing. Success builds fortresses of perceived safety and security that can end up destroying us.
  • When we play in a space of uncomfortable, we are awkward. This is where real opportunity is created
  • I frequently return to the concept of Balance. What does it mean to live a balanced life? How can we keep our Earth in balance? How can we best try to offer equal opportunity for all? Leading a life of balance is both a daily and a lifetime challenge
  • The ability to let go while holding on