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.