Social innovation traps

A recent piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review identifies eight so-called innovation traps that prevent an organization's best intentions of developing cutting edge solutions to social challenges from being fully realized. We found it interesting that while some of the traps are related to execution and implementation, others are more conceptual, meaning that culture is the barrier that forestalls change.

The SSIR lists the eight traps as the following:

  1. Underestimating what it takes: Funders miscalculate how long innovation takes and the scale of investment required to create real transformation, not realizing innovation is rarely a quick, short-term investment;
  2. Misaligned incentives: Despite a company's desire for innovation, staff are discouraged from taking the sorts of risk necessary for fear of failure;
  3. Coming to consensus: Another risk aversion trap whereby the need for consensus often leads to funding for only the clearest, safest, or lowest-common-denominator ideas, leaving truly radical projects untried;
  4. Who's responsible for innovation: Setting up teams of innovators is a double-edged sword as members with other duties may find new idea formulation difficult, while establishing dedicated innovators could lead to a balkanization of staff;
  5. Just around the curve: Not knowing the difference between a wrong turn and a dead end, which could lead to funding going to unproductive efforts rather than a project which should be nurtured;
  6. Everything is innovative: Funders need to define their goals based on characteristics such as how transformational, original, unconventional, or disruptive an idea may be and be ruthless in their assessment of whether something is truly innovative;
  7. We fund innovation, so we must be innovative: Traditional funding methods can be used to fund innovation, while more forward-thinking avenues like crowd funding can be employed to fund conventional activities. However it's done, funders have to determine if they're looking for innovation in the field or in their processes; and
  8. Innovation is the holy grail: Discovering an innovation doesn't end the search for solutions to complex issues, while the process looks beyond the breakthroughs themselves to new insights, and networks of problem solvers that develop new technologies or strategies unforeseen by the organization.

Understanding the pitfalls facing social innovators in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors should help foster better trials and greater progress.  What do you think?

Embracing the metrics of mutuality

Hybrid value chain and social impact in developed economies