Why ‘adapt’ is the new ‘nudge’ (and why that’s good for social entrepreneurs)

  Skininthegame I’ve written before about my love of podcasts, and how they can spark off new ideas or generate new thinking on the way to and from work. My current fave is More Or Less, the Radio 4 programme about statistics, numbers, and how they relate to the news events of the day (often to politics and policy).  This covers everything from the real value of the national debt to the comparative effectiveness of different contraceptives. It’s more interesting (and entertaining) than it sounds, and  it is particularly useful to have that rational discipline and questioning mindset when, like me, you are giving a lot of thought to an organisation’s measurement and evaluation.

I mention all this because the main man of More Or Less is Tim Harford, also known as the FT’s Undercover Economist (incidentally, the book of that name is a great intro to economic thinking and gives useful insights into pricing, costing, markets and much else besides).  He has a book being launched later this year called Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure, and I’m looking forward to it to an almost indecent degree.

Why? Well, if you read my recent piece on how social entrepreneurs learn, or anything about SSE’s approach to learning, you’ll know that we are keen advocates of action learning or learning by doing. That the best learning comes from action, and that the most successful initiatives are not those with the perfect business plan, but those which learn from failures, mistakes and imperfections. That things get figured out on the frontline, not in back offices;  that it is not academic ‘experts’ who solve complex problems, but practitioners with experience; that solutions are often better generated from bottom-up action and adaptation than top-down planning and grand strategies.

Indeed, it is that flexibility, agility, and adaptability that is identifiable in the best social entrepreneur-led organisations around, explaining their ability to both continuously improve and innovate their product and service, and also their readiness to seize opportunities and utilise untapped resources. The blurb for Harford’s book resonates strongly with this, saying that ‘out’ go experts, plans and (top-down) leaders, and ‘in’ come adaptation, improvisation, failing and learning (and trying again). And it looks like he will apply that thinking to big problems (Iraq, global warming, terrorism) and ‘small’ ones equally (everyday decisions in life and business).

While ‘nudging’ focuses on influencing (and changing) behaviours, adapting is more fundamentally about encouraging action before planning, overcoming obstacles as they arise, changing approaches rapidly and, most of all, about shifting the culture of risk-aversity to one of risk-awareness and even risk-acceptance. And further accepting that there will be failures along the way.  It is an approach that makes most sense in a world in which contexts and circumstances shift rapidly, and in which the pace of society’s development (and life generally) seems to outpace the best-made plans of policymakers and theorists.

So 2010 might have been the year of ‘nudge’, but 2011 should be the year of ‘adapt’ (and the year after that….).

[NB – Some might then advocate for an ‘adapt’ unit at the heart of government, perhaps headed up by Tim Harford himself; but obviously that would be a top-down, strategic plan for adaptation with an expert at the centre…which wouldn’t really work at all :0) ]



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Social enterprise and entrepreneurship links from August

Card2028-376x230 Lots to do, lots to read, lots more to do….

My last post-holiday round-up seemed to go down well, so thought I'd do the same for August as I did for July. No particular rationale, just stuff I've found interesting or think might be relevant. Hope it is. Enjoy:

– The big hairy article of the month was in the Economist (I assume by Matthew Bishop), titled "Social innovation: let's hear those ideas" which covers how the US and UK governments are seeking to encourage social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Also includes cogent round-up of Big Society agenda to date.

– If you're interested in working out what the hell is happening with Local Enterprise Partnerships (*entire readership switches blogs*), then this round-up is the best place STILL to do so.

– Some interesting stuff written about the Big Society. Dai Powell of HCT's ("The clock is ticking on the Big Society") and Geoff Mulgan of Young Foundation's ("Can the Big Society be more than a slogan?") stood out for me, along with Craig Dearden-Phillips call for a constructive, engaged response See http://del.icio.us/SSE/bigsociety for more

Twenty by Twenty: twenty essays on future of social enterprise, charity et al by good (as well as big) names

– Great social media decision-making guide for social entrepreneurs / non-profits from US experts Idealware

– Good piece in the New York Times about a social entrepreneur (don't be put off by the title): What Exactly Is A Social Entrepreneur?

Giving is no longer a government preserve: interesting piece in the Telegraph touching on social entrepreneurship + big society

Amanda Jones of RedButtonDesign in Director magazine on the trials and tribulations of raising funding/investment as a social enterprise

– Nice (Canadian) round-up of summer reading for social entrepreneurs which of course you can buy in the SSE bookstore

Social enterprise start-up: 3 lessons to learn….by Involver

Worry isn't work: Don't be Anxious! wise words from Dan Pallotta in Harvard Business Review; now if I could just follow his advice…

– Happy tale of a women's social enterprise (minicabs for women only) struggling, thriving and becoming the subject of a BBC comedy show

Ten tips on elevator pitches; I think the Brits aren't as good at this stuff (myself included); I think we do escalator pitches….so will try and read 5 lessons from 150 start-up pitches as well

Merger advice for small and medium orgs + collaboration advice from Bassac and others….

– ….and, for balance, an argument on DSC against merger: Total efficiency is the enemy of freedom

Pollgate: the results of the storm in our own particular UK #socent teacup; but gratifying nonetheless!

Freeing the Social Entrepreneur: a piece in Stanford Social Innovation Review well worth reading, covering founder syndrome, leadership and much more

– Great video on the Homeless World Cup and its impact: warms the cockles and all that

The Social Intrapreneur: a field guide for corporate changemakers…. ; well, those MBA-ers had to come up with something :0)

– Alex Nicholls says Social Entrepreneurship Is Growing Up on Dowser.org. Which I would heartily endorse. So I'll end with the good professor's words. Cheers:

”We're moving into a period of much more critical analysis of social entrepreneurship. We've ridden a wave of consensus; we're all hugging each other and patting ourselves on the back. There's been lots of money pouring into this and support from governments. I think all that's changing. We've had an economic calamity, governments are looking at austerity, foundations are pulling back, the media and others are getting more critical. I think we're going to have a critical decade for social entrepreneurship, and that's great. It's high time we looked at the stuff that's useful and does have impact and the stuff that has no impact at all, and I think we're going to have a big reality check. The hero-worshiping, self-congratulatory period's over. I don't see that as a challenge; I see it as a sign that we're growing up.”

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Social enterprise + social entrepreneur links of the week (June 2nd)

DoubthesitationEnjoyed this graph to the left, as it summed up either a) why social entrepreneurs are often prone to action (it removes doubt!) and b) how those waiting for potential cuts might feel as that wait continues….and in the interests of not hesitating here any longer, on with the round-up:

– First up, speaking of cuts, the Future Jobs Fund was first to go, realistically being much to early to decide whether it was a success or a failure; Peter Holbrook (of Social Enterprise Coalition) and Allison Ogden-Newton (of Social Enterprise London) both came out in strong defence of FJF on their blogs.

– The Big Society debates continue on twitter + blogs + pubs. Best recent contributions? I enjoyed Nat Wei's seabed-coral reef – fish analogy, Andy Westwood's take + constructive critique from the left, and Adil Abrar's practitioner's perspective . I also found it useful to get an outsider's view of it all, so check out Canadian social entrepreneur Al Etmanski on what he makes of all this (a "fork in the road worth watching")

– Scale seems to have been a theme this week as well. Whether it's Nat Whittemore writing about the lack of ambition in social entrepreneurs (prompting some debate in the comments!), Martin Brookes of ew Philanthropy Capital arguing for scaling up evidence-based solutions, not scaling out individual involvement, or Sally Osberg (of Skoll Foundation) writing on how social entrepreneurs can punch above their weight

– There was a good piece in the Guardian about CICs being used as a vehicle for water power investment

– Also in the Guardian, a piece on Lambeth Council (which we now have to follow with "The John Lewis Council" :0) ) which attracted some interesting and very informed comments

– Karl Wilding over at NCVO gave the best view so far of how the cuts might affect this sector

– There was much delight (though I'm not completely sure why) that the words "social enterprise" came out of the Queen's mouth

Grameen Bank is coming to Glasgow.

– Some interesting leadership moves as Social Enterprise Ambassadors Maria Donoghue-Mills and Matt Stevenson-Dodd both got new jobs at SCA and Street League respectively

– And on a final SSE note, there is now a list of all the SSE students / Fellows on Twitter (let me know if I've missed anyone….), and two SSE Liverpool students are up for Liverpool Woman of the Year. Please cast your votes for Claire Morgans or Pauline Pendleton, and congrats to both on the nominations.

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Reflections on elections (for social entrepreneurs)

ElectionIt's looking more likely that either a Conservative minority or Con-Lib Dem coalition will be coming into power following one of the more unpredictable and uncertain elections in recent times. Indeed, as happy as I was to be asked for my opinions on what was "great", what we should "hate" and what would be our priority from a new government, it did seem (and still does!) a little premature. So what's the news for social entrepreneurs?:

– All the parties are broadly supportive of social enterprise + social entrepreneurship, so this area can actually be a place of coalition + partnership: a thing they agree on. This could be a good thing (stuff might happen) or it might mean that the focus and priorities are elsewhere. This article, which quotes Nick Hurd and Jenny Willott, implies that the cross-party consensus makes it more likely that this will be an area of progress.

– Local still matters. It was interesting that Shaun Bailey, the Conservative social entrepreneur candidate in Hammersmith, failed to win. But many think this was largely a rejection of the council's activities (link is to an Independent article, which is refuted here) rather than Bailey himself, or a reflection of pretty equal campaigning resources on the ground. Countless other constituencies reflected local concerns and issues, rather than national ones.

– Bailey was front and centre of the Big Society idea as well (the Big Society blog gives updates / discussion). Much has been written on this too, from those on the left who see it as a cynical front for Tory cuts in welfare, and those on the right who view it as near-Fabian in its communitarian aspirations. My feeling is Patrick Butler has it about right in this round-up: "the election knock-about over David Cameron's 'big society' has
somewhat obscured, misrepresented or trivialised some of the ideas
within it";
and a group of social entrepreneurs and support agencies have signed a letter to that effect, 'defending' civil society.

Not to say that the idea shouldn't be questioned, investigated, challenged and critiqued (most cogently by Rob Greenland), but it has tended to be simplified to "volunteering" in the newspapers. And the debate has rather ignored that most of the policies in the social enterprise / entrepreneurship space are similar on both sides, and that, simply, cuts will happen. The disagreement on cuts can be about how much, how fast and where they are targeted, but there's little disagreement between the parties that social entrepreneurs and the wider civil society will be expected to grow and do more.

– Social Enterprise Magazine has a round-up of those MPs (relevant to social enterprise) who have lost, gained or saved their seats. Whatever happens, we will have a new minister for the Third Sector (or Civil Society), as Angela Smith lost her seat as expected; as did previous minister Phil Hope in the even more marginal Corby.

– On a lighter note, SSE Fellow Susan Archibald stood against Gordon Brown in his Kirkcaldy constituency, and just narrowly failed in her attempt….she is, however, the most searched person on the SSE website this week…

– And finally, it's interesting to consider that the politicians are now having to take on what they always encourage from us: partnership and coalition working. We won't know the result for a bit, but we can certainly guarantee a significant amount of resources, time and energy expended on partnership formation….problems over governance + agreeing process, and bringing the people in both organisations with them will be a challenge.

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Top 10 podcasts for social entrepreneurs

Following on the back of the top 10 blogs for social entrepreneurs, I thought I might add to that with some podcast links. I've been travelling a bit of late (currently on my way to Leeds) which, in addition to the commute, has meant a fair amount of podcast listening. I'm retreading a bit of previous ground here (see Podcasts + Pendolinos, Recent Social Enterprise podcasting, and Podcasts and  Audio Links), but there have been some decent additions to some old favourites….so here goes:

1) First up has to be Peter Day's World of Business which is consistently interesting about all aspects of business. And, when you consider that the last three episodes have featured employee-ownership, biofuels and entrepreneurship advice, it is also often of considerable relevance to social entrepreneurs

2) More specifically of this world is Social Innovation Conversations which is a US-based podcast affiliated to Stanford Social Innovation Review; mostly it is downloadable episodes of panels / speeches from events, but they are usually high quality people talking about relevant issues, so definitely worth a look through the archive

3) Evan Davis is best known for hosting Dragon's Den here, but I think his Bottom Line radio programme is great. Simple format (3 CEOs, 3 different companies, discussing few specific topics) and doesn't outstay its welcome. Has featured Divine Chocolate's Sophi Tranchell and Anne MacCaig of CafeDIrect previously.

4) SmallBizPod is the leading small business specific podcast, and Alex Bellinger does a terrific job with it, meeting entrepreneurs and raising issues that you don't find elsewhere. You can find a social enterprise specific section on the website with interviews from events and leading social entrepreneurs.

5) Echoing Green has been supporting social entrepreneurs for 20 years or so, and is one of the few support organisations to have ventured into podcasting. Its Be Bold podcast is about careers and is obviously pretty US-centric, but there's some good stuff here regardless: about people's motivations, about supporting oneself, about personal development and so forth.

6) Staying in the US, PRI do an occasional social entrepreneurship podcast, usually focused on international development work, and usually quite brief; but decent-enough

7) For a more cerebral take, and cutting-edge business thinking, try HBR's IdeaCast. Occasionally tiresome when it's just Harvard authors plugging Harvard books, but it's a good place for prompting new thinking and new ideas.

8) I've recently got into the Business podcast from the Guardian, which is pretty good + snappy about current business events + news; occasionally features ClearlySo supremo Rod Schwartz as well….

9) Some decent enough bitesize intro podcasts from Enterprising Non-profits in Canada (planning, value, what is social enterprise etc)

10) Brand new is the Ashoka Tech podcast, which has started with an episode on World Toilet Day (insert joke about starting at the bottom here….); bodes well, but too early to tell: one to keep an eye on.


And if that's not enough for you, see our bookmarks for more, or check out the 100 best small business podcasts, although if you;ve got time to listen to all of those, then the business is probably going down the pan :0)

Working up the courage / energy to do twitter lists (twists?) at some point soon….

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