It has been a busy start to the year, and it seems like that is the case for everyone. Certainly everyone I bump into seems to be working very hard indeed, as the end of March 2011 looms large….No different here at SSE (lots of work across the network, graduations, launches, new programmes and more). Which is partly by way of explanation for why blogging has been a bit infrequent (many thanks to current intern Ryan for filling in), and why this is the first round-up for a couple of months. Anyway, here are the most interesting and (hopefully) relevant links from the last month or so: Continue reading
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) ]
In between celebrating Ashes victory (making having an Australian franchise even more enjoyable than normal) and watching Series 8 of 24 (Jack Bauer very much a leadership role model), I managed to write a quick article for the Guardian Social Enterprise Network on how social entrepreneurs learn, expanding on the old question of "are entrepreneurs born or made?". You can read the whole piece here: Look back after you've leapt: how social entrepreneurs learn from experience
The title refers to one section, where I was explaining how the old proverb "look before you leap" didn't quite apply to entrepreneurs….the process being more like:
"It's key that you leap….definitely leap….
….but why don't you hear from some other people who who have already leapt and see how they landed….
….and then you won't leap in that way that landed them in a puddle…
….then learn a bit more about where to choose to leap first…..
….then get inspired by (and encouragement from) people around you also leaping…
…then Leap – and then look back and see how that went…..
…and how you might leap differently next time….
…and then look for the next leap that's needed."
Not necessarily the snappiest bit of writing ever, but a fair approximation of what 'progress' looks like for a lot of those we support; and which underlies the way our programmes and our approach to learning is structured.
And also what we look for in applicants: is prone to action, takes risk + responsibility, demonstrates persistence and commitment, seizes opportunity, utilises resources, has a sense of vision / direction, clear about mission/objectives and so forth. Entrepreneurial characteristics and traits, indeed, many of which are embodied by Jack Bauer himself. Told you he was a role model… :0)
Couple of new videos from our Hampshire franchise which are great at getting under the skin of social entrepreneurship in general, and the SSE programme (and its action learning approach) in particular. Thanks to all who feature, and especially to Peter @ Shedlight and Conroy at HSSE.
– Not officially September, but as I'm late, two events from early October worth following up on were SoCap 10 and SBC10. Check out the tweets (#socap10 #sbc10) and videos etc online if you couldn't be there like me.
– Stats + definitions: a generation hangs their head as the debate continues…. new research questioned how many social enterprises there are, which also prompted a call for clarity of definitions
– More forward- (and outward-) looking was Pamela Hartigan's interview on Dowser.org explaining why you don't have to be a social entrepreneur to make change, but it's good to know what they are…
– I'm pretty much in whole-hearted agreement with many of Malcolm Gladwell's points in this New Yorker piece on the limitations of Twitter + Facebook in creating change
– Global social entrepreneurs were excited by the Unreasonable Institute and Echoing Green applications opening. SSE is a pipeline partner to Unreasonable, so we're looking forward to seeing who they get on board this year; hopefully some SSE Fellows will be encouraged to apply
– Suffolk was the county on everyone's lips as they announced their intention to outsource "virtually all" services to social enterprise….
– …while Suffolk councillor (and social entrepreneur) Craig Dearden-Phillips wrote openly about the need (and lack?) of financial incentives for social entrepreneurs
– Big Society-wise, I have mostly been enjoying Karl Wilding (NCVO)'s neat overview presentation, Paul Hodgkin (SSE Fellow / Patient Opinion)'s article on importance of conversation + technology, and Radio 4's Analysis programme on Big Society (hat-tip to SSE colleague Ian Baker for the latter)
– Jonathan Jenkins (from UnLtd Ventures / Advantage) is as good as anyone on social investment, and this article on the need for angel investment brings out some of the key points, and the key current problems, of this emerging market
– David Robinson, one of the most quietly effective leaders in the social sector, writes about (and welcomes) the first pilot Social Impact Bond
– Social Entrepreneurs Ireland held their latest awards event, which I heard was fantastic: round-up and article on the event here
– Rod Schwartz got a good debate going about mergers, partnerships and egos in social enterprise
– Paul Light is a US professor who's been beavering away at social entrepreneurship for many years; he knows his stuff, as this Just Means interview makes clear
– The Social Enterprise Ambassadors programme had its closing event: details and photos on the website
– Tim Harford, who I'm a fan of on More or Less, has written a couple of interesting critiques of 'nudge' theory (behavioural economics stuff); see Nudges are for Markets, not Nations and To Nudge is One Thing, To Nanny Another
– And finally, because everyone loves a list, Inc.Com's 10 tips for managing a one-person sales force (a concept familiar to many of our students…) and this great post of 15 excuses for not making ideas happen.
Presumably no. 16 is writing a blog post to delay other work. On which note, over and out.