Spotting The Difference With Social Innovation

We need to shift our thinking away from just ‘innovation’ into ‘societal innovation’. Why?

Social issues will dominate our thinking in 2011 and beyond.It simply has to as we struggle to manage in ‘depressed’ economies.  Social based solutions are very different from economics based ones. Economic ones are more focused on the production and consumption of commodities. For me, social ones has five very distinctive differences from existing innovation approaches associated with the economic ones used in innovation.

  1. Social innovation has to have a higher level of intensity in the reliance on distributed networks to sustain and manage one of the most important aspects relationships. Relationships constantly need to be brought together to resolve a ‘given level’ of societal challenges. They are fluid, constantly changing and never fixed. They are often ‘messy’, full of debate and compromise but take on a ‘higher’ meaning when you are tackling tough societal problems.
  2. Social innovation has more blurred boundaries between production and consumption, across sectors and traditional ‘mixes’ of innovation. Often there are no clear ‘black or white’ solutions, many will need de-constructing and re-constructing on distinct challenges and context.
  3. The emphasis on collaboration and repeated interactions need greater care and maintenance than much of our present ‘one-off’ consumption. Society is quick to mobilize today, playing off the defensive is not the answer, it is leading the offensive and shaping these interactions becomes critical. You cannot be passive, you need to be ready to experiment, learn and move on through this learning and confront, irrespective. We need to actively explore, to experiment and learn so we can be in a better position to ‘serve’ society when challenges arise.
  4. There is a significant emphasis to be placed on value and missions, to build momentum and identification. These well defined positions help overcome many challenging barriers so as to achieve that unification of purpose and move towards those solutions that provide improvements on existing approaches. Passion runs high, solutions become very emotive. It needs a consistent and strong commitment to execute from this value and mission, you need a bedrock of belief and commitment. This is critical for mobilizing resources.
  5. The consumer or final receiver of the social solution dramatically changes, from being a passive to a very active and highly engaged participant. People in need will find their voice, they will place increased ‘demands’ that are often emotional, necessary and based upon real need.  Many of today’s solutions based on the present linear process to tackling problems, or referring back up a chain of command I don’t feel can work. Solutions and empowerment need to be closer to the final recipient based on thier needs. The more engagement and consistent interactions must be feed back into more robust structures where there is access to ecosystem platforms where broad participation is essential to respond and send back the vital information to the person on the ‘front line’ to meet the problems faced by that community or individual. Logistics and technology are crucial enablers that are needed to be more adaptable than business related ones.

Early recognition of these differences or where innovation is merging today around social and end consumer unmet needs will need ‘fleshing out’ in any future debates.

Can you see differences between societal and business innovation?

Clearworks - Customers, Connections, Clarity

Paul HobcraftPaul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.

Paul Hobcraft

Paul Hobcraft is recognized for his consistency to champion and informs on innovation. He focuses on building innovation capacity, competencies, and capabilities and promotes innovation in informative, creative and knowledgeable ways, piecing together the broader understanding of innovation. Paul continually constructs a series of novel and relevant frameworks to help advance this innovation understanding and writes mainly through his posting site of where he regularly publishes his thinking and research based on solutions that underpin his advisory, coaching and consulting work at




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  1. Dieuwke Begemann on September 5, 2011 at 7:06 am

    Your article is very clear and I totally agree with your analysis and conclusions.
    Social Innovation demands other skills and values then before.
    My expectation is that it will ask for a organization culture which is more feminine and that old onesidesnesses created by industrialization and the separation of home and work needs to be transcended.
    Did write about that but in Dutch, but If you like we can talk/skype

    Dieuwke Begemann

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