The power of words

I believe that defining terms such as social entrepreneurship and social innovation is extremely important. Any great idea must be understood before it can spread.

Difficulty in definitions often arise when we have a “spectrum,” in which there appears to be large grey areas in-between two extremes. Rather than being frustrated by this, and giving up on definitions all together, I think it is important to create clear definitions for certain “pegs” along the spectrum, by which the entire spectrum can be understood and communicated. This not only helps us better understand our personal role, but also allows the ideas of social entrepreneurship and social innovation to spread.

Understanding our personal role
As I have sought (and continue to seek) to better understand what I want to do with my life, short definitions have often given me great inspiration. I will offer one example. In his article The meaning of “Social Entrepreneur,” J. Gregory Dees explains that:

“Entrepreneurs are innovative. They break new ground, develop new models, and pioneer new approaches. However, as Schumpeter notes, innovation can take many forms. It does not require inventing something wholly new; it can simply involve applying an existing idea in a new way or to a new situation. Entrepreneurs need not be inventors. They simply need to be creative in applying what others have invented. Their innovations may appear in how they structure their core programs or in how they assemble the resources and fund their work.”

This definition of entrepreneurship (applied in the article in the context of social entrepreneurship) changed my entire perspective. I used to think that I would not make a great entrepreneur because I do not consider myself an inventor. I did not envision myself creating a new product to take to market. As I read and thought about the implications of this definition of entrepreneurship, however, I was better able to see where I could fit in. I recognized within myself an ability to see a high-potential model and scale it. I recognized the potential of getting smart people together to re-combine or improve existing models and programs. I was able to have a much better perspective of how I can best contribute to the field of social entrepreneurship, which then allowed me to plan my career accordingly. This same process has taken place several times in my life, as I have had discussions and read books on the topic. Often only a few words made a world of difference.

Allowing us to spread these ideas to others
There is a certain beauty in simplicity. I was once in a very deep conversation with a friend, philosophizing and such during a very long car ride (Utah to Mexico), when a young girl said, “you guys aren’t smart. Smart people make complex things simple. You guys are just making simple things more complex.”  It took me by surprise. First of all, this girl was like eight. Second of all, it was hilarious. But really, she was exactly right. The true beauty is understanding something deeply enough to explain it very clearly. Simply.

As we understand the definitions of social entrepreneurship, social innovation, and all of the other terms necessary to draw boundaries, contrasts, and similarities, we will be increasing our ability to explain these concepts in a clear and simple matter. It is just as important to understand what something is, as it is to understand what something isn’t. Just as important to understand how two things are similar as it is to understand how things are different. Boundaries must be drawn. Definitions must be made. This does not mean that we can’t have grey area. We just need pegs and boundaries.

Working with the Social Innovation Leadership Council, and within the Ballard Center, I have come to realize that communicating what we do is one of the biggest needs we have. Only then will we be able to affect the lives of more students. This is only within BYU – I believe that the same situation exists in the SI/SE space world-wide. I am glad that one of the main purposes of this class is to help us better understand these definitions, and thereby enable us to help others catch the vision.