Developing a culture of innovation in social enterprises

Developing a culture of innovation in any organisation can be daunting, let alone in a resource and income starved social enterprise. In this article, CEO for the School for Social Entrepreneurs, Celia Hodson provides 3 actions social entrepreneurs (or any Not for Profit organisation) should take to foster a grassroots culture of innovation.

1. Fail quickly

A mistake many organisations make is developing the entire product development cycle and value proposition for the next 5 years without understanding how the market will react. Instead of spending 18 months planning – just start. The quicker you start, the quicker you will get an understanding of how your market will react. Instead of launching with all the bells and whistles, launch with a beta product or service offering and refine as you go. It’s better to just start and undergo an iterative design process where you test, learn, and adapt.

2. Engage scrutineers

Develop an advisory committee for your social enterprise consisting critical eyes from various backgrounds. Numerous research has showcased that collaboration and innovation thrives when you throw a problem into a group of people from different backgrounds and ideals. Take your threats and challenges to your advisory committee and ask them to help you transform them into opportunities. Problems are best solved by bringing together unlikely bedfellows who develop an idea into a tangible outcome.

3. Look outward

It's increasingly important to look outwards as you develop your social enterprise or foster growth in your Not for Profit organisation through innovation. Place yourself in the shoes of your potential customers so you can truly understand their position and what needs you must meet in order to be successful. Look at how they see your brand, unique value proposition, and marketing tactics. Do they see the benefits of your offering – or only the features? How are you selling to your customers? Are you located where your customers are searching? After you undertake this assessment, sit down and be real with yourself and your organisation from a customer centric perspective.

As a final note on being innovative there are two key attributes that innovators and entrepreneurs must tune into: the first is being a starter – someone who is not afraid to ‘give it a go’ with an understanding that it’s okay to fail; and the second is an acute understanding of where to be flexible – someone who is not seduced by shiny objects, rather stays on track and is flexible when needed.

Read more about programs at the SSE here