Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Innovation As a Rolling Donut

Rolling Donut via Glob-a-Log
As the latest PR disaster rolls out across the internet, we can take a moment to congratulate ourselves and our small not-for-profits that we've actually embraced social media and seldom make fools of ourselves with it. Or by underestimating it.

How Late Were YOU to the Party?

Did you see the possibilities in social media marketing for your nonprofit early on, or was it something else? If it was something else, what did it for you? Word-of-mouth? A Jones for the Next Big Thing? Simple curiosity?

I know it wasn't hard data, because there wasn't any. No flashy infographics, no software providing  measuring tools for your ROI (dollar-wise or engagement-wise or other-wise).

Could any delay on your part be chalked up to fear? Or are you one of those folks who claims to embrace innovation (which I define as creative change to a product, a system, or a process)?
Okay, yes - the standard dictionary definition is different, as is Wikipedia's. And we could argue nuance all day long, but it's my blog.
Everyone Wants Creative People on Their Team - or Do They?

From boardrooms to classrooms with arts education nonprofits as cheerleaders, we hear that innovation made us great and innovation will return us to greatness. And to my mind, there can be no innovation without creativity.

But according to a couple of recent studies, creativity can make people nervous. That is, a creative idea or person can make people feel uncertain - fearing the unknown and untried - which is something people generally like to avoid, so to avoid feeling unsettled, they reject the creative idea. This goes a long way in explaining why there are so many scoffers and why my ex-boss was always so quick to say, "Let me tell you why this will not work."

Early adopters of creative ideas (like some well-known nonprofits) have derived a great deal of benefit from embracing the uncertainty of social media. Others, as in the PayPal example, can use the internet to deliver product and still miss what it means to be able to really connect with the people they serve.

Innovation as a Rolling Donut

So what am I arguing here - that you take a figurative leap at any innovative donut* that rolls along in front of you? Not a bit of it. All I'm saying is that if you find yourself resisting a creative idea, you might want to take a moment to ponder whether it's because the idea doesn't sound so innovative or - because it does.

Innovation comes holding hands with uncertainty. As someone who works at a small nonprofit, you deal with uncertainty a lot though you may try to mitigate the sense of it with strategic plans, metrics, and case studies. Accept that to exceed your own expectations, you're going to have to embrace uncertainty. You don't have to marry it, just get used to having it around. It's an indicator that you're taking a certain amount of risk - and innovation only becomes success through risk and effort.

When did you start using social media for your small nonprofit? How is it working for you? Leave a comment in the little box!

*From the film Battleground (1949) script by Robert Pirosh where one soldier tells another "He can take a flying leap on a rolling donut."

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