Changing the discussion…is that enough?

We all talk about the need to change and the need to innovate in order to accomplish that.

We agree.

A famous quote, a favorite of mine, is what Einstein said

“The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result.”

So, indeed, if we want to see any kind of change – from small to big – we need to do things differently. Or “think different” as another favorite brand says:)

There is a lot of talk around social innovation and how to measure its impact; methods, tools, frameworks, experts and enterpreneurs have grasped the opportunity and all have something to say. Definitely a positive sign, as even starting a conversation on a topic is a sign of change taking place or being prepared to take place.

The question is:

a. how do we move from talking about measuring to actually measuring and

b. how can different disciplines work together in order to capitalize on each other’s knowledge and experience.


A simple yet powerful “tool”/theory I found across my way the other day was this layered approach.

When rookies/newbies or people that don’t really care talk about impact, what they really refer to is outcomes. Their check list. Did I deliver that workshop? Done. Did I have enough students registered for my event? Check. Did I hit my FB fans/twitter followers goal? Brilliant. Does that actually have anything to do with impact? No. It is just an indication of popularity, but is by no means a proof of impact that should make any social innovator proud of his/her achievement. These are the hard outcomes: the things we can count.

Next layer are the things we can measure, in some way. Here is where we probably start seeing in an indirect way the result of our efforts, without though being able to link 100% the result with the cause, the cause with the effect. We can measure for example whether performance in our department or our school has improved, but can we really say that the result is 100% because of our activities and actions? Usually, these are usually stuff that are subjective, intangible. Remember, there are things that matter and we cannot measure and things that we can measure that don’t matter. So, what is important here is for us to be selective and make sure that is not “lost in translation”…or in other words not lost in the process of measuring or of creating so many or so complicated measures that they not only become time consuming but also complicated. Nothing wrong with complex, but complicated is counter-productive.

Following that, a good sign of whether we are doing a good job are the conversations we are changing. Are our conference participants still talk about the past, problems and challenges and not about a better, higher future, solutions and innovation? Are we still stuck in the fact we have no money to do what we want or do we talk about different business models, activating the community and making sure that along with the social value we “produce” we also provide economic value to our community? All that is not a matter of time, it is a matter of intensity of experience. I have been a facilitator/host in 3-day conferences (hosted by my friend Dey Dos), where you could see the change in conversation from the first couple of hours. How was that achieved? It started from the concept/the idea of designing the experience, the application process, the design of the agenda, the place that was chosen, the environment created at the venue, the preparation of the hosting team and the overarching principles/culture throughout all the elements of the experience. In order to change the conversation, you need an holistic approach. You cannot talk about innovation and creativity and deliver lecture-type lessons. You cannot talk about IDEO Design, Art of Hosting, Appreciative Inquiry and run the session as an expert, as a facilitator, a trainer. You need to manifest what you talk about. You need to showcase what you talk about. Only that will people follow you, what you say and try to replicate it or adopt it. This is no easy work. How can a social innovator measure/testify that? By being there. Being present in the community is not about gathering demographic information, designing solutions and implementing them, in a consulting type of mode. It is about that AND about being in the community to see the impact that you have, talk with your students/target group and see the change in the way they speak and the things they say.


Finally. Have you heard the paradox “What we do is defined by who we are? Or what we do defines who we are?” Before action comes thought. The way we think not only about others and other things, but also about us. How do we move to actually influencing and positively impacting the way that people think? This is the ultimate measurement. Possible? Yes. Tough? For sure. Worthwhile? Definitely. The only sustainable innovation, if you ask my opinion. You will not find many people that agree with me, though, because it is the hardest work of all. But, how did Apple change the IT world? By making them thing that buying their products is so much more than buying a device. For them, an Apple product means differentiation, coolness, some attributes and characteristics that the human nature asks for. How does Ashoka change the world? Not just by funding social innovators around the world, but by changing the discussion and the thinking around what constitutes social enterpreneurship, social value and change.

Again, strong learning experiences here play a critical role. Call it education, call it meditation, sports, a discussion, a mentor, call it whatever you want, it is not about the structure or the medium so much but about the way, the intensity, the effect that a method/person/tool has on our brains and the synapses that are created in it. Once we can influence how and what people think, we then influence their decisions. Their decisions are the basis for their actions. And the sum of their actions is the legacy they live to this world.

A few days ago a great leader passed away. Nelson Mandela is and will be a role model for many around the world. Did he just stick to counting how many people came to his speeches, or did he actually change the discussion and the way people think around the world about what it means to serve the community and provide equal opportunities to all?

Thank you.

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