We have talked a lot about social innovation together. We’ve looked at bills that have passed that give social enterprise new legal structures, fellowship programs for the field, and tools social entrepreneurs can use as they climb the proverbial mountain where money meets meaning. 

the importance of staying grounded

One thing we haven’t covered is the importance of staying grounded.

When you’ve chosen  impact-driven goals, where your actions pursue profit but are not driven by them, and where risk of failure is incredibly high—it might be easy to feel a sense of self-righteousness about the cause you are addressing, the expertise you are developing, or the kinds of people you prefer to associate with.
This is a friendly note to say, resist giving in.
However understandable it may be to develop a sense of overconfidence about your expertise or social innovation knowledge, it is potentially dangerous in a field that demands creative thinking, endless collaboration, and a good listening ear.  Forgetting the inherent “we” of social innovation could interfere with your efforts to create a positive impact.Avoid developing a social innovation ego, and recognize it when you see it in others.


The sliver lining, is that humility reminds us to stay grounded.

Just about as often as a room can be crowded by social innovation egos, you will meet someone who is humble, genuinely curious, and generous with their time, knowledge, and experience.  Through interviewing various leaders in the field I have seen and experienced it.

Take for example, Nathan Pham of GoodJoe. While interviewing him about his social enterprise I shared an idea I had been thinking about hosting a social innovation unconference (that post will be out soon). Instead of politely smiling and nodding and reminding me how busy he is, he began brainstorming on how we could make the grand experiment happen.

Or, Gene Takagi of Neo Law. Though we have met in person exactly twice, he has been incredibly supportive and generous over all modes of social media. He exudes genuine dedication to the field and support for those exploring it.

Another snapshot of humility is Kim Meredith of Stanford PACS. (her interview will be out soon). She heads the department that oversees philanthropy and that is home to the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  In interviewing her I was absolutely struck by her warmth and genuine passion for the field.

There have been countless others who I have met once or regularly stay in touch who remind me to stay grounded through their own energy and poise.

So, what do you do when you encounter egos in the field?

One line of thinking is to first start by checking your own behavior. That is, just like you check your phone to make sure it’s off silent when someone else’s rings at a movie theater; when you observe ego creeping into a social innovation effort, it can initially be the perfect reminder to make sure you’ve checked your own at the door. By reframing the situation and choosing not get caught up in a battle of might, you may provide just the gentle reminder and space to help others stay grounded.

After that, however, the water becomes murkier.

If a certain viewpoint or personality is overtaking a social innovation effort, do you back out or dive deeper? A great deal likely depends on personality. If you work best in a collaborative state, you might do better to find like-minded collaborative-thinkers. If you, instead, thrive in banter and don’t mind the debate then stay, challenge, and fight it out until a resolution is reached.

Lose yourself in service…

Some may say that the social innovation seeks to disrupt traditional business, law, and finance precisely because they have been driven by over-zealous egos. To that end, we may need to check ourselves to ensure that while doing so, it is for the purpose of serving a greater good. Then we can measure our own involvement by how we can best serve the greater cause.

Gandhi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And perhaps the best way to find the path for social innovation is to remember that its essence lies in service.

    What should we write about next?

    0 replies

    Leave a Reply

    Want to join the discussion?
    Feel free to contribute!

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.