(Un)reason and exuberance: social entrepreneurs

Heading down to Cornwall today, I was aware I had the chance to do a fair bit of reading and listening, so had stocked up on papers, research and podcasts. Flicking through Society Guardian, it was interesting to
read about how an area I was heading straight towards (Pool near Redruth) was facing a challenging dilemma about its regeneration. Flicking further on brought me to a piece by John Elkington on his (and Pamela Hartigan’s) new book, The Power of Unreasonable People, which I’d commend to you.
The title for the book comes from the George Bernard Shaw
observation that "The reasonable man adapts himself to the
world…[whereas]…the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world
to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man"
Elkington says that, by this definition, most social entrepreneurs are
unreasonable and, indeed, many have been dubbed ‘crazy’. Certainly, they tend
to challenge held norms and the status quo, be that on a local, regional, national
or international level, and can be viewed as mavericks.

But it rather depends on one’s view of being
unreasonable. The cartoon accompanying the article has a helmeted motorcyclist running over
a cat and sticking his fingers up at two passing (and suitably open-mouthed)
locals; he has "Hell’s Social Entrepreneurs" written on the back of
his jacket. Now, that made me chuckle, and is obviously an extreme take on the
article, to say the least, but it does demonstrate one side of being
‘unreasonable’. What’s interesting to me is that many of the successful social
entrepreneurs we work with and meet tend to be eminently reasonable: fair,
persuasive, equitable, just, sensible and wise. They are backed with evidence
of need, proof of impact and make the case for support / investment well.
Indeed, to achieve success, they have to bring the community with them and
build relationships: stroking the cat, rather than killing it.

I think what Elkington and Hartigan are getting at (I
know, I should read the book…and will) is the combination of persistence and
passion that makes these people do-ers. As he writes in the article, "A
can-do attitude is much more likely to succeed than "don’t do",
"won’t do" or "can’t do" mindsets"
. Whilst on one side
of the line, a combination of pragmatism and realism, or what might be called
over-reasoning, can lead to caution, status quo and a cynical "won’t
change" attitude, being the other side of the line, which combines strong
motivation, passion and belief with a persistent pragmatism, is what being a
social entrepreneur is all about.

As an aside, Rob Greenland has recently posted on his
blog about how social entrepreneurship seems to be getting more corporate,
blinged up and glam
(particularly in London); what he calls
"irrational exuberance". I mention this, not only because it connects
to the debate on reason (note ‘irrational’) but also because Rob and several of
his commenters remind us how broad this movement is: whilst the Guardian
article talks of Davos, Clinton, Gordon Brown and multinationals’ interest, Rob
reminds us of the grassroots social entrepreneurs battling for social justice
and to change their (local) world. There are unreasonable reasonable people in
the long tail as well.

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Why SMART goals are MT

No matter what type of organisation you work for or lead, the acronym SMART will most likely have crossed your path several times by now. For me, it’s popped up in government tenders (“demonstrate how your deliverables are SMART for your programme of work”), funding applications (“your project outcomes should be SMART”) and several times within SSE, be that operationally or strategically.

So what does it stand for? Well, this is where the problems start, as there are a few variations. The most widely accepted seems to be:


But the A can also be for Attainable, the R can be Relevant or Results-oriented, and the T can also be Tangible, depending on which management bible or “how to act SMART” guide you read.

While investigating effective goal-setting in one-to-ones, I ran across the Manager Tools podcast, and these posts about goal-setting and why SMART is anything but. This made much sense to me, and chimed with some stuff I’d previously thought about this widely-used tool. Their objections include:

1)  You don’t need Specific, because if your goal/target is measurable, it must be specific (enough) anyway. Let’s get rid of the S.

2) Achievable and Realistic are virtually the same. If you make the R Results-oriented, that’s pretty much there in Measurable. And who’s going to set, or be allowed to set by their line manager/colleague, a goal that isn’t Relevant? That’s the R gone.

3) The same applies to Achievable / Attainable. If someone is setting a Measurable goal or objective, and they’re putting a deadline on it (Time-bound), then why would they make it unachievable? It’s in no-one’s interests to do so, either the person who has to achieve the goal, or the line manager who wants the organisation to achieve the goal. And so, A is gone.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us MT, people. And full of clarity and focus. As long as we use Time-based (or Time-bound, which I prefer). Tangible makes little sense to me: a) because how can you touch your goal / achievement and b) because how can you have a goal that isn’t Time-based (i.e. without a deadline)?

So it’s Measurable and Time-based. And if you select a Measurable and Time-based goal, you’ll find it is pretty SMART as well. That’s because MT is the heart of SMART.

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Whilst reading about Derek Conway and the other MPs paying their own family for internships and work experience (even the Third Sector got briefly drawn in), I got thinking about how this related to the use of interns by third sector organisations, particularly in the fields of policy and research. As regular readers of this blog will know, SSE recently had an intern over from St Olaf College in Minnesota, which was pretty much an unqualified success. Using volunteers in this way can clearly make a substantial difference to an organisation like SSE whose capacity is still relatively small, if growing. And (I think) it can be a genuine win-win, with significant personal development, learning and contacts/networks for the intern in question.

The problem, which we have debated a fair bit internally, is how to ensure that this doesn’t run counter to our other principles: namely, the need for diversity in the third sector, the need for entrants and new leaders to come up from the grassroots as well as from the ‘grad-routes’. For, inevitably, for someone to take a full-time three-month position at an organisation in (usually) London, unpaid with (possibly) some expenses, they have to have support from elsewhere. This is usually parental, either in the form of direct monetary support, or in the form of free rent & board. Or they are in university full-time and can afford not to work during some of their holidays. Generally (and this is a generalisation), these means of support skew the potential intake to those with a more privileged or well-off background.

So how can we ensure internships go to a real cross-section, to the best people regardless of background? Clearly, bursaries and sponsorship is one way: some universities arrange placements and support expenses, such as identifying cheaper accommodation or directly paying expenses. In Thor’s case, this meant that he could afford to not do his restaurant manager job for a month in the holidays, and come to SSE.

But how to also extend these opportunities further out? Our neighbours Operation Black Vote recently won an award for an interesting shadowing scheme which focuses on political internships / work experience, precisely to avoid the old-boy networks we see continuing in those establishments;  these might provide a useful model; or something along the lines of this scheme, Leaders Together. Maybe there is a case for something similar in the third sector: funded internships that take the burden off the organisation and the individual to find the money to make it possible, and allow for a broader, more diverse intern network. Happy to hear of any such initiatives or ideas: there could be a social enterprise in this….

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Podcasts and Pendolinos

For some reason, no matter the amount of forethought and planning, my travel around the UK (to support existing SSEs or to develop new ones) tends to come in batches. So this week was Manchester and Liverpool back-to-back, and next week is Belfast and Cornwall back-to-back. Apart from taking the outstanding pile of reading with me, and the ubiquitous laptop, I tend to load up on relevant podcasts for some (hopefully) interesting listening to pass the time.

Over the last couple of days, whilst leaning with the Virgin Pendolino round corners, I’ve listened to the following:

– Evan Davis’ The Bottom Line: simple, but effective: talking to 3 CEOs each week about their business, and business in general. Recommended

– A few episodes from HBR’s IdeaCast, which varies for me, both in terms of sound quality (phone call interviews are tough to hear) and becoming overwhelmed by its own jargon (“so what we’re talking about here are ways of hedging companythink?”) but there are good bits, including one professor on the CEO within and succession planning (mp3).

– The Times’ Twelve Business Ideas that are Changing the World, which this week featured Stuart Rose of Marks & Spencer talking about their Plan A CSR strategy. OK-ish.

– A couple of episodes from Grassroots Channel from Podnosh, which were both great and put the others largely to shame, considering (I assume) the budget and support is that much smaller.

I listened to the Grassroots episode on lobbying advice in preparation for my workshop on the same subject with social entrepreneurs in Manchester (see my powerpoint here), and it was well produced and structured. Loved the subtitle: “the dark arts demystified” (I got an image of Dumbledore telling Harry Potter, “Right. Now we’ve done spells and broomstick technique, it’s time for the hard stuff: lobbying”). I ended up incorporating elements of it in my session, particularly around calling lobbying another form of persuasion, just planned persuasion of those in (or with) power.

I also enjoyed the session from the launch of the Big Green Challenge, because it didn’t just act as glorified PR (or greenwash) for the event, but questioned it and reflected some dissenting voices. It made for an interesting dialogue and conversation between those involved. The same couldn’t be said, for example, of Stuart Rose’s quasi-lecture which, whilst informative about some of the numbers to do with M&S’s Plan A, suffered from having no challenges to it. It sounded over-prepared and scripted, and I learned little that I didn’t know already; demonstrates how the medium is suited to dialogue and conversation. I was longing for Podnosh’s Nick Booth to chip in with some questions about his private jet, continued overpackaging, shareholder reaction and so forth, but longed in vain. The campaign for the interview, or a better conversation, starts here.

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