As collaborators with hundreds of entrepreneurs at both entry level and scale, it's clear to us that the core goal of business is, as Peter Drucker famously wrote, "to create a customer"– however you define customer. But what if you anticipate the customer's needs? Design thinking guides us in the identification of problems and opportunities, and lean startup thinking helps us dial in the solution. To that end, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise creates an exciting space for discussing entrepreneurship within the context of building the future we wish to live in, or solving problems before they happen. I sat down with our Founder, and colleague, Matthew Manos to talk about this exciting new book and why everyone involved in social impact should be reading it.
What is this book about?
Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise is a manifesto and collection of essays inspiring a new generation of social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders to move from a founding principle that is informed by reaction to one that is driven by strategic foresight. "Social entrepreneurship is almost always too late. As practitioners of social enterprise, we hold the assumption that our responsibility is to exclusively act post-crisis in order to gradually chip away at a persistent problem, or to maintain a state of peace. The art of reaction is necessary, but the expectation of post-traumatic innovation as the singular starting point for an entire industry is limiting. What if social enterprise was also responsible for preemption? What if social entrepreneurs were also futurists?"
What is preemptive social enterprise?
A preemptive social enterprise is the opposite of a reactive social enterprise, the norm of socially responsible innovation. While traditional for-profit enterprise is rewarded for investing in visions of the future, social entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders are rewarded for reacting to problems that already exist. While it is crucial that the social sector continues to react to the problems of today, we advocate for the integration of strategic foresight in that practice.
Through this book, we have revealed reaction as a critical shortcoming in the practice of social entrepreneurship - the fact that entrepreneurs often launch a business inspired by a traumatic event. By considering the future as an ally, social entrepreneurs can move beyond band-aid solutions, and can be inspired to think more holistically/systemically about a problem.
How did you arrive at this idea?
The notion of moving toward a more preemptive social enterprise is a concept that I originally developed during my MFA thesis work at the ArtCenter College of Design. While I was a student there, I was developing scenarios around a future in which humanly perceivable problems will be harder and harder to come across (due to the acceleration of technology). The work became interested in this idea of adopting tools that can allow us to be more preemptive in order to stay ahead of the curve. In the years since completing that thesis work, verynice has continued to prove the value of futures thinking in social enterprise through our work with entrepreneurs and academic institutions around the globe.
Why is this an important topic now?
In any election cycle in the U.S., we often highlight our culture's reactionary nature. These quick assumptions/reactions often miss the boat on proposing solutions that are more systemic, and as a result, bigotry and band-aid solutions to deeply systemic problems prevail. As a culture, we need to understand the implications of our solutions by adopting more methods that allow critical thinking to flourish. Futures is one great way to do that.
What was the criteria for choosing the contributors on this book?
The book features over 20 voices - this is strategic in the sense that the future is too big of a topic for one individual to carry the weight of in a single book. I selected contributors who are thought leaders in their respective fields, but specifically requested the participation of futurists. Futurists are tasked every day with imagining the implications of traumatic events, scanning trends, and understanding emerging issues so that we all may be more preemptive, or at least know what we are doing with.
What do you hope comes out of this project?
If even one social entrepreneur picks up this book and says, "Hey, how can I continue the great work that I'm doing, but also set aside time to reflect on the implications of my work in order to ensure I am tackling the right problem?", I will be happy.
Who did you write this book for?
This book was written for the next wave of social entrepreneurs. More and more business schools have dedicated courses and even programs for the practice of social entrepreneurship. The really exciting implication of this institutional support is the fact that we will see the number of social enterprises multiply in the next 4-5 years. The book is written for any social entrepreneur, but especially the new social entrepreneur.
What is the connection between this book and your last book, How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free?
An excerpt from the book's afterword addressed this question:
"...in 2012, I decided that the only way we could achieve our mission of alleviating nonprofit expenses would be to inspire a new movement in pro-bono. To accomplish this, we open-sourced our business model and proprietary methodologies by way of publishing a book: How to Give Half of Your Work Away for Free. As a result of this initiative, we have inspired thousands of practitioners to engage in pro-bono work around the world.
After publishing the second edition of our book in 2014, I realized that social entrepreneurs needed even more tools that could allow them to create their own unique business model, driven by impact, just as I managed to do with Give Half. Enter our second major initiative: Models of Impact.
Models of Impact is a toolkit that allows people to create innovative business models for social, environmental, or personal impact. The Models of Impact project is part of a greater initiative to open-source every model of impact. Our vision is to enable legacy by making systemic approaches to long-term change more tangible, actionable, and accessible. With thousands of entrepreneurs and educators now leveraging the Models of Impact toolkit (as of 2016), we estimate that the toolkit has generated over 7,500 new impact-driven business concepts. With the immense volume of ideas being generated, the almighty question of "why?" can't help but present itself to me. Our manifesto, Toward a Preemptive Social Enterprise, is one attempt to answer that question."