Inspiration: – Taking on Failure — and Innovation — in the Social Sector

Posted on 09/05/2011


Erica Williams skriver på

Innovation, in word and deed, has been a golden calf of the business world for decades. Companies like Apple and Google are prized and admired for their unending commitment to introducing new services, products, methods and strategies. Now the concept has taken on a second life in the social sector, where a tougher than tough economy has made “innovation” the theoretical one-size fits all answer for every challenge, with little discussion about the associated costs and challenges. Donors no longer supporting your work? Innovate! A harsh, unyielding, volatile political climate? Innovate! Shrinking staff? Innovate!

I myself, charged aggressively into this recession with all of my 22-year old energy and generational swagger, armed with Seth Godin books, ready to innovate and “change the game”, despite never having played it before. Working for the nation’s oldest and largest civil and human rights coalition, I ran head first into the reality that innovation, however sexy and necessary, is much easier said than done. Since then, I’ve founded a new project and brand within the country’s largest progressive think tank and am now working with ambitious social entrepreneurs to develop, experiment with, and incubate new ideas. In other words, I’ve seen how hard innovation can be in every possible social sector setting.

Why is this? Well, for starters, failure is a critical part of innovation. In order to try something new, one must be willing to fail on the path to success. Unfortunately for many non-profits, failure is perceived as more than an uncomfortable and painful outcome, but a grave and dangerous one. There are two huge reasons why failure is seen as so negative in the social sector.

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Posted in: Inspiration