imagesThis week I revisited a fascinating book titled How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein. The author provides ten profiles of men and women from around the world who have found solutions to a wide variety of social and economic problems. For Bornstein, social entrepreneurs are transformative forces. They are people with new ideas to address major problems, who are relentless in the pursuit of their visions. They are people who simply will not take “no” for an answer. They will not give up until they have spread their ideas as far as they will possibly go.

As inspiring as each of the stories are, the aspect of the book that I found most interesting was the common theme found in each of the profiles. In every single example the “success” of each social entrepreneur was not because they were necessarily more confident, persistent or knowledgable, but in every case it came back to their motivation; the “why” behind what they did.

Bornstein concludes the book by discussing 6 qualities of successful social entrepreneurs. Each of these qualities are related to their motivation, or their why. I think they each quality has a lot to say about apostolic ministry. Here is a brief summary of each of the six characteristics. I find each to be extremely insightful, and I believe can be helpful when considering the broad changes that need to occur in most of American Christianity, specifically church planting.  

1. Willingness to Self-Correct

Because of their motivations, highly successful entrepreneurs are highly self-corrective. This may seem a simple point, but it cannot be overstated. It is inherently difficult to reverse a train once it has left the station. It takes a combination of hard-headedness, humility, and courage to stop and say “this isn’t working” or “our assumptions were wrong.” Particularly when your funding is contingent on carrying out a preauthorized plan. However, the entrepreneur’s inclination to self-correct stems from the attachment to a goal rather than to a particular approach or plan.

Interestingly, the inclination to self-correct is a quality that seems to distinguish younger entrepreneurs from their older and better established counterparts. It is a quality that seems to diminish with time as entrepreneurs become increasingly attached, or even chained, to their ideas.

2. Willingness to Share Credit

There is no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit. But for entrepreneurs, a willingness to share credit lies along the “critical path” to success, simply because the more credit they share, the more people typically will want to help them. It too grows out of their motivation. If an entrepreneur’s true intention is simply to make a change happen, then sharing credit will come naturally. However, If the true intention is to be recognized as having made a change happen, sharing credit may run against the grain.

3. Willingness to Break Free of Established Structures

Social entrepreneurs can bring about change by redirecting existing organizations, but most of the time the citizen sector is where entrepreneurs find the greatest latitude to test and market new ideas. While there is considerable freedom in the business sector, businesses are limited to marketing products and services for which it is possible to capture profits within a relatively short period of time. Many organizations that produce great value for society do not generate profits or take longer to break even than investors are willing to wait.

4. Willingness to Cross Disciplinary Boundaries

Independence from established structures not only helps social entrepreneurs wrest free of prevailing assumptions, but it gives them latitude to combine resources in new ways. One of the primary functions of the social entrepreneur is to serve as a kind of social alchemist: to create new social compounds; to gather together people’s ideas, experiences, skills, and resources in configurations that society is not naturally aligned to produce.

People typically self-organize around interests, work, culture, and proximity. Universities are divided into faculties, governments into agencies, economic and social activity into industries or fields. Social entrepreneurs approach this state of order with a need to engage the world in its wholeness.

Faced with whole problems, social entrepreneurs readily cross disciplinary boundaries, pulling together people from different spheres, with different kinds of experience and expertise, who can, together, build workable solutions that are qualitatively new.

5. Willingness to Work Quietly

Many social entrepreneurs spend decades steadily advancing their ideas, influencing people in small groups or one on one, and it is often exceedingly difficult to understand or measure their impact. Often they become recognized only after years working in relative obscurity. Once again, this comes back to motivation.

A person must have a very pure motivation to push an idea so steadily for so long with so little fanfare. People of ambition fall into two groups, those who want to “do something” and those who want to “be someone.”

6. Strong Ethical Impetus

The bedrock of social entrepreneurs relates to their ethics. It is meaningless to talk about social entrepreneurs without considering the ethical quality of their motivation: THE WHY. In the end, business and social entrepreneurs are basically the same animals. They think about problems in the same way. They ask the same types of questions. The difference is not in temperament or ability, but in the nature of their visions. In a question: Does the entrepreneur dream of building the world’s greatest running-shoe company or vaccinating all of the world’s children?

At some moment in their lives, social entrepreneurs get in their heads that it is up to them to solve a particular problem. Over time, their ideas become more important to them than anything else. Every decision passes through the prism of their ideas. Although it is probably impossible to fully explain why people become social entrepreneurs, it is certainly possible to identify them. And society stands to benefit by finding these people, encouraging them, and helping them to do what they need to do.

“If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves” ~ Thomas Edison