While this is an article about education for social innovation, it is supremely relevant to the education and practice of any corporate innovator in today’s world. Its central thesis is that we need to start thinking of innovation as a way to change complex systems rather than just attempting to ‘solve problems’, and teaching as such. To paraphrase the authors statement of the problem more generally than just for social entrepreneurship:
Many of the programs and educational models we use to teach entrepreneurship and innovation focus on starting new ventures and fail to teach students to think critically about or build activities that contribute to systems change. Training programs offer accelerators, business plan competitions, and funding as a means of helping hopeful change agents translate their good intentions into impact. At its worst, current approaches incentivize elite students to try their hand at hackathons or start-up competitions, where they work on problems they may not understand.
Instead, the authors advocate an approach that asks entrepreneurs, and the people who train them, to analyze their current understanding of an issue from a systems perspective and to support this systems understanding before solution pitching. This includies surfacing and addressing the underlying mental models (such as relationships to power and privilege). They suggest four areas of focus to develop the perspectives and competencies needed to set and achieve systems-change goals.
- Inner work: This includes the development of self-awareness and social/emotional intelligence, fostering empathy as an innovator.
- Systems orientation: Innovators and entrepreneurs who seek systems-level impact need to shift their orientation from mainstream, short-term, individualistic success to long-term, strategic thinking and collective leadership
- Systems tools and frameworks: These are foundational for developing curricula, working with stakeholders, identifying root causes of complex issues, and even challenging one’s own assumptions or beliefs
- Practice and participatory methods: Rethinking existing models and modes of education includes diversifying the perspectives of the educators and participants in the classroom, as well as redefining where we draw classroom bounds.
The value of the ‘systems’ entrepreneur will clearly become more relevant as the world becomes more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.