Jed Emerson, Executive Vice President, ImpactAssets
Reposted from REDF (also known as The Roberts Enterprise Development Fund)
It would seem “innovation” is the “it” word of the day!
We have innovation funds, summits and workbooks. We have awards for social innovators and the assumption that without innovation there is no forward movement, no radical insight, no champion of change. In truth, innovation is critical to the advancement of our society, organizations and each of us. But the challenge of embracing a call to innovation is that we must first understand what truly is innovative as opposed to simply old toys in shiny new boxes; the challenge of innovation is cultivating our ability to discern the wheat of heralded innovation from the simple chaff of latest enthusiasms.
There are at least two rules to maintaining our enthusiasm for innovation while restraining our inclination to over-sell or lose track of the ultimate goal (which is, of course, not simply innovation for its own sake, but innovation for the sake of moving us closer to the goals of sustainability, impact and justice…). The first rule is a fairly simple one: Know What You Don’t Know. This would seem, of course, to be a fairly fundamental truism, yet in today’s arenas of social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, impact investing, effectiveness measurement and so on, one is often struck by the number of supposed “innovations” which are not actually innovations as much as iterations around established themes.
To truly understand what is “new” one must have a historical perspective of past and current practices and only then may one be able to assess one’s thoughts, proposals and practices as to their relative innovation. This might be seen as obvious, yet in the past 20 years of working to advance “new” thinking and practice, I’ve been struck by how easy it is to be truly ignorant with regard to what exists. Indeed, I’m not afraid to say there have been moments in my life when I’ve been truly ignorant; not stupid mind you (that is for another essay!), but simply ignorant of the true state of knowledge or practice and thus deceived into thinking my “innovations” were unique or insightful. Read the rest of this entry →