Business and social innovators alike thrive on collaboration, not competition, according to several new books.
By Ron Schultz
A book I recently edited, Creating Good Work – The World’s Leading Social Entrepreneurs Show How to Build a Healthy Economy (Palgrave Macmillan), has been referred to as a bible for the social entrepreneurial industry. But while it tells the genesis of how social innovators get this work done -- combining expertise, knowledge and wisdom -- it’s not really about why they do this work.
What would compel someone like David Haskell to lead an organization that is willing to go into the most dangerous places on earth to see to the needs of those trapped in those locations? What drives a woman like Karen Tse to end torture in 32 nations by training local public defenders to uphold the humanity of those accused? What inspired Bart Weetjens to even think he could train giant rats to sniff out land mines in Africa and then accomplish this task saving thousands of lives threatened by this treachery?
In cases like these, there is great darkness across the lands in which these social entrepreneurs work, but the good news is they often cast a very bright light into the recesses of the worlds they encounter.
The Shambhala Principle
So, what is it that informs their values, motivation and inspiration? I was recently given a small book in which I found just such a principle and along with it many of the reasons why we social entrepreneurs do the work we do. The book: The Shambhala Principle (Harmony, 2013).
At its core, The Shambhala Principle is the basic goodness inherent in everyone living on this planet.
This Principle of basic goodness sounds pretty simple, but it is the cornerstone for creating a good human society. It’s why social entrepreneurs can venture courageously into the darkness.
We Can’t Do It Alone
They also know they cannot endeavor to shift what seem like intractable social challenges, alone. Desmond Tutu reminded us of this when he shared his story of feeling like a light bulb. When the lamp can be turned on, the bulb illuminates everything in its path. But if the light bulb is unscrewed and laid next to the lamp, no matter how hard it might try, it is unable to shine. The point being, we don’t and can’t do this work alone. Our ability to bring light into hidden places requires all of us to work together.
It requires a society.
The Shambhala Principle, as articulated by its author and the leader of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, is about creating a society that understands and acts upon our relationship to each other and to the world we encounter. This is not a religious offering in any sense of the word. It’s purely a human understanding of what it takes to awaken our interconnectedness.
Business Innovators vs. Social Innovators: Relationships
What separates those driven to find social innovation from those challenging old models in the business world? Not much when you understand that both activities are essentially based on relationships. And, as both Creating Good Work and The Shambhala Principle make clear, the success of these innovative approaches is only as great as the innovator’s ability to relate to others.
In The Shambhala Principle, it begins with “just you and me.” To some this may seem like a radical shift from the cultural perspective of the “rugged individualist.” But this now-failed principle, brought to us in the 17th century by John Locke and his compatriots, no longer holds up in the 21st century. Now to effectively get anything done, we need to see ourselves as rugged collaborationists, engaged with each other in building a healthy and prosperous society.
As the Sakyong describes it:
“In a society where the individual is exalted, it is harder to tune into 'you' because we are so involved with 'me.' This isolationist policy makes it difficult to grow. Conversations become a one-way street instead of a two-way rapport."
"On the other hand, in a society of 'just you and me,' encounters become a way of celebrating our humanity because when we all contribute freshness and flexibility to the one-to-one ceremony, our growth is exponential. Kindness and wisdom are displayed in many directions. Ideas cross-pollinate, new theories arise. From this self-invigoration, we create art, poetry, and literature, as well as science and engineering. Let us now re-empower the word society so that every time we have a conversation, it is an expression of possibility."
This expression of the possible only arises when we have the conversation. This is true in the world of business innovation and social innovation. Our interactions with each other produce a whole new realm of “adjacent opportunities,” opportunities that are just one step away from where we are right now, but which didn’t exist until we took the step before. This is the basis of our ability to change, to affect change, and of our system to accommodate change.
Re-Empowering Society: Change Begins With You & Me
Change begins with the meeting, with the conversation.
So when social entrepreneurs venture into places of danger or darkness, they turn on the light with a conversation between “just you and me.” What emerges from that moment of human interaction may seem magical, but it is actually very ordinary magic, at best… especially if you define magic as a transformation by the unexpected.
But this simple act of talking with each other can melt cultural intransigence in even the most entrenched social systems. It means “talking with,” not “talking to you,” which of course implies, “listening with.” The answer is not in me or you, but in you and me – rugged collaborationism.
It is imperative for those of us who call ourselves Social Entrepreneurs to learn that making change doesn’t start with a grandiose scheme of us helping them. It begins with a single interaction between us, followed by another, and then another and in this continuum of interaction lives change.
It is not a soliloquy, or a rage against the storm, but a recognition of the basic goodness each of us operates from and which can be touched with a simple reaching out to another. Change begins here.
When I asked the 24 chapter contributors to join me in writing Creating Good Work, we did so through human contact with one another and our desire to shift intransigence around pressing social issues. As it turned out, The Shambhala Principle informed every step we took. And from those initial conversations, an opportunity to inform others took place. And from those interactions, there were still others that emerged. The chain of adjacency extends on and makes a difference with every interaction.
That is the nature of a principle, it applies whether you are aware of it or not.