Recently I gave a talk at Scanners' Night, a charming ideas and networking evening hosted by John Williams, author of Screw Work, Let's Play.
After an initial chat about Mindapples, for the second half John and I tried an experimental discussion about "how to change the world" in which I shared a few of my tips for achieving social impact, based on my experiences of running social innovation projects and start-ups.
It was really nice to have a chance to reflect on what I've learnt from School of Everything, Mindapples, Sociability and the RSA, and I was surprised by how different my approach is now compared to when I started. So in the interests of helping other people seeking to do something positive in the world, I thought I'd share my top five tips for social entrepreneurs and budding world-changers here.
1. Find the positive action that everyone around you wants to do, and help them do it.
If you try to do everything yourself, you will run out of money first and energy second. Figure out what other people might do to contribute to your vision, and make it easy for them to do it. Perhaps if everyone did one small thing, or volunteered for your project in some small way, the world would change. Think, for example, how much easier it is to improve dental hygiene by getting every child in the world to brush their teeth, than by training up ten million oral hygienists.
2. Sell things to people for money.
The biggest reason social projects don't make money is because they never ask anyone to pay them any money. This has two effects: they have no money, but also, and much more importantly, they never put themselves under pressure to deliver real value to their customers. The more you charge for something, the better it needs to be. Stop letting yourself off the hook, and instead challenge yourself to put a value on what you offer and then make good on it. Even if you end up giving things away later, the quality of your work will be so much better for it.
3. Make people's lives easier.
It can be tempting to enroll people to your cause by explaining how hard everything is and how much you need help, but the best projects are a joy to help. Make it easier for your customers and beneficiaries by providing a service they can't live without, and make it easier for influencers and investors by giving them the solution as well as the problem. You don't have to have everything worked out, but nothing is more demoralising than feeling a task is impossible.
4. Be nice.
You will often be told that you need to be ruthless to succeed, but in my experience unpleasant people burn their bridges and quickly run out of favours. Yes, you need to make tough decisions, and yes you can't be generous and forgiving about everything and still have any integrity or quality standards. But - and it's an important but - there is no advantage to being nasty, and no reason to be unpleasant even if you need to be firm. Be nice, and be kind, because people notice, and people are the best asset you can ever have.
5. Be beautiful.
Ok, so perhaps not the most obvious point, but beauty can get neglected in the quest for a better future. People remember people and projects that delight them. From being well presented in a meeting to having a really charming website, don't underestimate the value of good looks and charm. Many a contentious project made it through because someone was just too charming to turn down.
Of course, these are just a few thoughts that emerged on the night, and lists like this can be cut many ways. These things have worked for me though, at least in small ways, and I can certainly say I achieve more and do more good by following these principles than I did a few years ago. So I offer you that, for what it's worth.
Feel free to disagree though, since that would be my tip number 6. :-)