In small groups, we brainstormed ideas and key words about social innovation. What did it mean to us? There were no right or wrong answers. It was an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to learn from ourselves, to learn from our group members, and to learn from the class.
By the end of the exercise, twelve words had been proposed:
The first word we discussed was value, and more importantly, the ideas of perceived value and added value. We also discussed the role of value systems and diversity. I thought this was extremely interesting, because in a weird way, I thought the very group work we had done to reach this discussion demonstrated different value systems and diversity, and differences in perceived value.
I recall distinctly the conversation that took place surrounding my suggestion of the word new. It was clear that nobody else saw value in that word, and quite to my surprise, the discussion became heated very quickly. Upon reflection, however, I realized that it didn’t really matter whether I convinced my group members that new was of value. What mattered was that I valued that word, that I saw its importance to social innovation, and that we as a group shared a common passion for understanding and working within the space of social innovation. It didn’t really matter if my new was someone else’s reinvented or recreated; beneath the labels there was a common understanding that work needed to be done, change needed to take place, and improvement needed to take place.
This reminder me a lot of the readings I had done in preparation for the course. It seemed like every time I opened a new article, it always said the same thing as the last article I had read: that there is no universal definition of social innovation. Social innovation remained unclear, and sometimes contentious, just like our discussion.
The other major takeaway from the discussion was about risk. Ironically, it didn’t make the cut of key words, but it was something that the class almost unanimously agreed was integral to social innovation. You have to be willing to take the risk to make change. You have to be willing to work outside of your comfort zone.
But, wait a second…..what about risk averse people like myself? Am I capable of social innovation?
Just as I was screaming “No, no, no” to myself, we moved on to discuss another word: collaboration. All of a sudden my mind seemed to explode with all sorts of thoughts: cooperation; strengths; weaknesses; teamwork; helping each other; mutual goals; etc.
As someone who loves to work independently and detests group work, this is a scary concept. More than scary, it almost feels like I am being forced into it. But maybe this was the key to success!? That my weakness, my risk averse-ness, could be matched by someone else’s strength, their risk seeking-ness!?
For the first time, I felt like I had managed to find one piece of this enormous puzzle known as social innovation.