The Search for Social Entrepreneurship examines the power of social entrepreneurship to accomplish large-scale systemic change within the nonprofit sector. Author Paul C. Light takes on the behemoth task of synthesizing differing views and research outcomes to arrive at a consensus so entrepreneurialism can be studied and replicated for the greater good.
Despite the fact that absolute certainty about what constitutes a highly entrepreneurial organization is elusive, Light successfully teases out useful similarities among researchers’ findings. He does so by identifying four basic components of social entrepreneurialism. In the end, the reader gains a collective view of what highly entrepreneurial organizations look like and how they behave.
Below is an excerpt from a delightful Q & A we had with author Paul Light in our March Page to Practice™:
CausePlanet: In your book you conclude that highly socially entrepreneurial organizations portray internal practices such as lower emphasis on strategic planning and undiversified revenue streams. These descriptors seem antithetical to highly performing organizations that have a diversified funding base and good planning systems in place. How would you turn these conclusions into instructive guidance for aspiring entrepreneurial organizations?
Light: It’s the founder’s syndrome we often talk about. Once the entrepreneur has the idea, why should he, she, or they look for input from inside or outside the organization? They have THE idea after all. They also have less interest in strong governance, I think. The board exists to serve the idea—I’m a big believer in strong boards, but agree that micro-management is off limits. But an occasional conversation about what the entrepreneur might do better is strictly required. So is the social exploring I talked about earlier in this interview. The more diversity in this picture, the better. In fact, the latest research suggests that “collaborative creativity” by diverse groups produces more breakthroughs than “garage innovation” by lone wolves. And it is more effective in reducing dead-ends. In baseball terms, collaborative teams produce more hits, extra bases, runs, and homeruns (“going yard” as Detroit Tigers fans like me call it), and they also produce fewer strikeouts and errors.
CausePlanet: What advice do you have for nonprofit leaders who would like to hire more entrepreneurial staff members or train the team they have? What characteristics should they be looking for or trying to develop?
Light: Creativity is the key, I think. Once you find someone with faith, look for creativity, inspiration, passion, and hope (which I view as a deep form of optimism—we all have optimism at some level, whether about that dinner we just put in the oven (or microwave in my case), the movie we’re about to watch, our favorite sports team, or the opera. But hope is something more durable—it resides in our being, a sense that what we are doing will add up somehow to a significant change in the world.
Can we teach people to be more creative? Absolutely. Set aside some training dollars for your team to do just about anything that stirs their imagination—a cooking class, pottery workshop, a yoga class (though I rather prefer an elliptical myself), a painting course, you name it. Too much of our training is tightly circumscribed—accountants take accounting classes (and we don’t want them to be creative with the numbers, but we do want them to see how those numbers are part of the creative discipline), leaders take leadership courses, etc. We can do better. Some of the best training classes for innovation involve a drawing pad and a charcoal pencil. Believe it.