Giselle Nicholson, MAPP '06, is a social behaviorist obsessed with leadership development, team-building, and social innovation. She poses hard questions that invite candor and ah-ha! moments critical to effective, lasting change. What makes her jump out of bed in the morning is the opportunity to partner with leaders, teams, and organizations to ignite and develop high impact solutions to pressing problems. Full bio.
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“What does innovation humanity mean to me?”
This was the central question of a conference I attended about a month ago. I had the good fortune to attend the inaugural Innovation & Humanity Summit hosted by Chapman University’s Leatherby Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Ethics. Its purpose was to create a day of dialogue centered on positive social change through ethical innovation.
Glenn Llopis, the creator of this event and Founder of the Center for Innovation and Humanity, coined “innovation humanity” to describe the “beginnings of the wisdom economy where we must give birth to a new form of ethical innovation that propels positive social change to breed global prosperity.” Who responds to this new term? An eclectic bunch – nonprofits, executives, business owners, and academics – all interested in how entrepreneurial innovation can drive positive social change. Llopis is a charismatic connector and was able to bring extraordinarily diverse and brilliant minds to an intense day-long summit. The day included keynotes, plenary sessions, and breakouts on topics such as the following:
- The Wisdom Economy: Strategic Thinking and Decision Making – What’s the New Normal?
- The Advancement of Women in Business & Society
- Leaving a Legacy vs. Making a Mark
- The Millennials and Why They are Changing the Ground-rules of Innovation and Humanity
- Non-Profit Organizations and their Role in Serving Humanity through Innovation
Through the numerous conversations I joined, four key themes emerged as takeaways for my day:
1) Servant leadership propels social change. In my management consulting work I’ve witnessed robust, tireless servant leadership from nonprofit leaders, but much less so in the private sector. This is changing. For-profit business leaders at the Summit strongly identified with this leadership concept, as seen in discussions about how they could build a legacy versus leaving a mark. Panelists agreed that servant leadership is marked by creating esoteric value through experiences and connections with others, and that it’s based on developing high quality connections through one-to-one relationships. For those with interest in servant leadership, I highly recommend Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski.
2) Innovators live in multiple worlds. Everyone at the Summit was curious about how to identify and cultivate innovators within their organizations. Ronald Burt, professor of sociology and strategy at University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, explained, “People who live in the intersection of social worlds [two or more areas of knowledge] are at higher risk of having good ideas.” These people are also better at building teams and getting others invested in ideas because they’re equipped with the language to empathize with different groups. Burt’s advice? Build non-obvious networks of knowledge and relationships before you need solutions.
These are “option paths” that will increase the likelihood of positive serendipity for innovation. Adlai Wertman, founder of the Business & Society Lab at USC’s Marshall School of Business, also persuasively spoke to the leadership advantage of crossover between seemingly dichotomous worlds. His examples illustrated the asset leaders have when they approach sustainable social change endeavors with a business background.
3) Innovators speak of love. In the past, business has traditionally been defined as a material enterprise and words like “love” and “compassion” were excluded. However, with the rising popularity of social enterprises, traditional businesses are waking up to the fact that competitors are talking about human values. At the Summit, “love,” “trust,” and “meaning” were words used to describe a business’s mission and impact. Business-owners didn’t shy from conversations about the human side of sustainability and how to create space for love to emerge and express itself in business.
4) Innovators know their strengths. The importance and advantage of knowing one’s strengths was a repeated point. Entrepreneurs must seek wisdom in mistakes and the unexpected. The concept of “whole being awareness” was emphasized by Dr. Robert Wolcott, founder of the Kellogg Innovation Network and author of Grow from Within, who sees the opportunity innovators have when they approach challenges with awareness of their strengths.
In the past few years I’ve attended three different conferences that all created a similar platform for inspiring and thought-provoking discussions. I highly encourage readers interested in social entrepreneurship, positive social change, and ethical innovation to check them out:
- Business as an Agent of World Benefit (Cleveland, OH)
- Skoll World Forum (Oxford, England) – My PPND review of this conference
- Revolution Through Social Enterprise (Pepperdine University, CA)