Yesterday I had the opportunity to present on exalt, mass incarceration in the US, and the limitations of sector-silo(-d) approaches to solving our most difficult societal problems, to a team of senior consultants from Ernst & Young’s UK headquarters. This unique and nontraditional path-crossing was initiated and directed by Swarm, a new company developed by three entrepreneurs pooling their talent, experience and networks to “bring together diverse, eclectic talent, perspectives and expertise in creative collaboration… to hatch, prototype and grow innovative solutions to some of the most pressing social and environmental problems of our time.”
The session I participated in (which also featured presentations from Pave, Do Something and Uncharted Play, all of whom have developed innovative recipes for combining talent, creativity, entrepreneurship and impact) was part of a day-long “scout” Swarm organized for the Ernst & Young team. This choreographed journey to and through multiple lenses and examples of social entrepreneurship in NYC is a somewhat alternative detour from the group’s larger program, primarily designed to connect them with some of their US counterparts to focus on leadership and other principles directly connected to their core business’ mission.
What, you might skeptically ask, could possibly come of such a brief exchange? I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that simply the act of facilitating structured opportunities for people from different sectors (for-profit, nonprofit, government) to discuss our most challenging collective problems (planet sustainability, unprecedented income inequality…) can probably only be a good thing given how intractable these challenges seem. Each sector of course has its distinct purpose and thus unique strengths (for-profit encourages innovation; non-profit helps us try to prioritize humanity over profit, and government provides necessary structure to help us avoid societal entropy). Yet each has fallibilities that seem to increasingly limit its potential to solve our most entrenched problems in a twenty-first century cultural context: the for-profit sector’s blinding narcissism, the non-profit sector’s cloying obsession with mimicking the for-profit sector by insisting on an ability to show a prove-able ROI in human affairs, and government’s risk-averse, liability-balancing-act miasma.
I’m not pointing to each sector’s flaws to be a stone-thrower. Rather, I’m inspired to be part of efforts to help them become more porous so their respective strengths can be shared and maximized, and their limitations reduced. One of the things that was nice about yesterday’s session for the Ernst & Young team was that they were a mature audience. That is, innovation, particularly in the 21st century, is now a domain often claimed exclusively by the very young, and therefore at risk for the same flaws that sector silos face: isolation from different perspectives. There is something quite powerful and inspiring about inter-generational, and inter-sector approaches to innovation. When experience and innocence meet under the proper conditions, great things can occur.
If you want to experiment, consider hosting an exalt intern where you work. Whatever your age, you will definitively be the experience to his or her innocence. (And if anybody wants to host a dinner party to test out the theory, give me a shout! I’d offer, but my apartment is too small.)