How to Become a Social Innovator

Mad Scientist Innovator

If you have ideas and a desire to change the way things have always been done, you’re already well on your way toward being a social innovator. Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business’ Center for Social Innovation defines social innovation as "a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable," than the solutions that exist today.

That starts with great ideas that you can then develop into actual products, apps, or processes people can implement to improve their lives. What should you do to get going? Here are some things that can help you become a social innovator.

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1. Tune out the haters

If you want to be innovative in nearly any realm, you have to get good at ignoring the people who say you can’t do something, or that you have to do something the way it’s always been done. While it’s good to understand the mechanisms that have come before and to study history, don’t let yourself be limited by other people’s judgements or naysaying. Instead, turn your focus to listening to the problems that people are facing, so you can begin to develop ideas for solving them. That means talking to people and finding out what challenges they face every day.

2. Work in a collaborative environment sometimes

At the same time, it can help to work around other people who aim to make social change as well. Even if you work mostly alone, look for ways to collaborate with other like-minded people. Rent a space in a co-working environment, for example, or join a group of innovators who are committed to sharing their ideas and looking for new ones. Local community colleges or universities and non-governmental organizations or non-profit groups are good places to start seeking out like-minded people who may be committed to social innovation.

3. Observe the young and the old

If you come up with an idea, test it out with a group of young people, as well as a group of old people. The young people might give you insight into how to improve it while the older people may help to show you the limitations of your idea and how to modify it to make it easier to use. Then again, you might be surprised. The elderly might also have some great ideas for furthering your idea while the young people you work with might show bias or exhibit difficulties in working with your product or idea. In any case, you’ll get a good sense of what’s working and what’s not.

4. Stoke your creativity away from the project

You may be laser-focused on your idea and in making it the best it can be, but you’ll do well to give yourself a little time off too. Your brain only has limited resources, and eventually, you’ll burn out and won’t be able to stoke the fire of creativity if you don’t take some time away. In other words, taking breaks can increase productivity and creativity, reminds Entrepreneur magazine.

5. Network with a variety of people

While you might find yourself spending a lot of time collaborating with people in the non-profit and charity world and commiserating about the solutions to the world problems, you need to branch out a bit more if you really want your social innovation project to work. Some of the most challenging problems in the world require a collaboration between the non-profit, private and public sector, reminds the Stanford Center for Social Innovation. With that in mind, look for ways to connect with local business leaders who are working in a field similar to yours.

If you’ve developed an app that helps combat a social problem, for example, you might contact local app developers for help. Likewise, connect with people in the public sector near you, including local, county, state or even your national representatives. While you might not collaborate directly with them, they may be able to point you toward resources that can help get your idea off the ground, such as grant funding, for example. And, of course, look to business incubators and social innovation groups, such as the one at Stanford, for ideas and encouragement.

There’s no one prescribed path to becoming a social innovator, but by following these tips, you’ll have a good chance of letting your ideas flow.

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Do you consider yourself to be a social innovator? Do you have any tips to add?