Three Pro Tips for Creating Conditions for Social Innovation

Here are three ways to create the conditions for social innovation.

"Social innovation" is super hot right now. In fact, it's downright smoking.
It seems that everywhere you turn there are people, organizations, and industries exploring the meaning of this new field. Social innovation, we're convinced, is critical to addressing the cultural, environmental, and economic challenges of our time.
But where does social innovation come from? And, more productively, can we make social innovation happen?
Our own organization, the Centre for Social Innovation, has been wrestling with these questions since 2004. And, while I'd love nothing more than to reveal a formula for producing innovation, the simple truth is that no such formula exists. You can't make innovation happen.
But that doesn't mean that we must sit back and wait for a bolt out of the blue. Though we can't deliberately produce innovation, we can create environments for social innovation to thrive. We can create the conditions for social innovation emergence.
Here are three ways to create the conditions for social innovation. While these insights arise from our experience running a coworking space and incubator, they apply equally to building a new office and team, gathering a group for a sustained conversation or convening a conference.
1. Create Your Space
Your first responsibility is to create a space that's conducive to creativity and breakthrough thinking. Our experience tells us that the best spaces blend function and whimsy. Function, because appropriate spaces must contain the tools and resources necessary to perform functional activities. Whimsy, because there must be some features that disrupt people's pre-conceived assumptions and behaviours. Yes, this could mean pinball machines, pool tables and lego blocks—but it also means novel material choices and surprising space configurations. The key is to prevent people from slipping into predictable patterns of activity. And while you're at it, make sure that the features of the space are modular. Leave room for participants to reconfigure the elements to support their evolving needs.
2. Cultivate Your Culture
Far too many people fail to recognize that culture can—and should—be consciously cultivated. You must embrace your responsibility to establish a social and psychological environment as well as a physical one. This starts with bringing "the right" people together; your first responsibility is a curatorial one. But putting them together is not enough. You must work to establish a sense of trust, comfort and camaraderie. This requires deft facilitation and careful animation. It also requires a balance between your own point of view and the perspectives of participants. Leave room for their voices in shaping the culture but don't relinquish your responsibility—it's your role to establish a direction and orient the participants toward it.
3. Introduce Multiple Interventions
The past few years have seen a surge in the creation of new 'interventions'—camps, competitions, incubators and user-driven methodologies all intended to accelerate the innovation process. These developments have been powerful and essential. But no mistake about it: No single intervention is going to work with all audiences or issues. And no single intervention will work with all people in a given audience or at a given time. Here's where you need to be patient. Innovation doesn't happen by simply bringing people through an articulated process. It happens in the between moments - in the nooks and crannies of our environments. Your role is to provide a multiplicity of interventions—a variety of 'ladders' that participants can climb at just the right moment. Abandon any sense that there is one route to innovation. Instead, adopt an entire ecosystem of approaches that allow participants to try, abandon, be inspired and pivot from. From there, who knows what will emerge.
Do you have examples of great spaces, cultures or interventions that lead to innovation? Share your ideas below.
Eli Malinsky is Executive Director of the new Centre for Social Innovation in New York City. \n
Image courtesy of the Centre for Social Innovation.\n
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less