Tag Archives: leadership

The power of unreasonable people, and how they’re changing the world

A review of The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World, by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

For more than a decade I’ve been deeply immersed in the world of social entrepreneurship. Yet somehow I neglected to read this important book when it was first published four years ago. (I acquired a copy, stuck it on a shelf, and promptly forgot all about it.) To my mind, The Power of Unreasonable People ranks with David Bornstein’s seminal work, How to Change the World, as a point of entry into this fascinating, and increasingly important, realm.

The field of social entrepreneurship, still early in its development after Bill Drayton first gave the concept prominence early in the 1980s with the launch of Ashoka, is rife with disagreement. Some observers insist that a social enterprise must be a not-for-profit enterprise. Others assert that only for-profit ventures qualify for the label. Fortunately, Elkington and Hartigan believe that the whole range of organizational forms can be thought of as “social enterprises.” I say fortunately because (a) I agree with them, and (b) to insist otherwise is to miss so much of what is exciting in the field.

The Power of Unreasonable People covers the landscape, describing examples from virtually every area of interest in development, from healthcare to education to poverty eradication. In fact, the book is most rewarding in its presentation of vignettes of individual social enterprises, including interviews with many of their principals. A lot of the examples are familiar to anyone active in the field. Some are not. However, this is no mere collection of case studies. The authors embed each organization within a typology of their devising, allowing the reader to get a sense of how they may be compared with one another. The Power of Unreasonable People concludes with a discussion of the structural changes that are essential if humankind is to prevail in the face of endemic poverty on three continents, ethnic and religious conflicts, and the growing impact of climate change.

John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan are two of the most qualified people in the world to have written this book. Elkington, a force in the area of corporate social responsibility for three decades and a prolific author, co-founded the consultancy SustainAbility in 1987 and originated the term Triple Bottom Line in the 1990s. Hartigan served as founding managing director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship from 2001 to 2008, partnered with Elkington to establish the consultancy Volans, and now works as Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University.


Filed under Business, Nonfiction

Tribes, by Seth Godin

@@@ (3 out of 5)

“Leaders have followers,” Seth Godin writes. “Managers have employees. Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.”

Tribes, one of Godin’s recent efforts to enlighten humanity with the wisdom of Silicon Valley, builds on this underwhelming insight to paint a picture of leadership that seems limited to questioning conventional wisdom and making a pest of yourself. There’s insight to be found in Tribes, as there is (more frequently) in Godin’s other books. But the true value of this little essay on making change in the world lies in the innumerable examples and anecdotes liberally scattered throughout.

Oh, yes: that title. “Tribes,” in Godin’s phrasebook, are the apparently random collections of people who follow those he regards as leaders. No leader, no tribe. No tribe, no leader. Get it?

Now, don’t misunderstand me. Seth Godin is a very smart man with a brilliant marketing mind. Here’s how he defines marketing in this little volume: “Marketing is the act of telling stories about the things we make — stories that sell and stories that spread.” It’s hard to find a better contemporary definition of that widely misunderstood concept. And it ties neatly into Godin’s theme in this book because, he adds, “Today, marketing is about engaging with the tribe and delivering products and services with stories that spread.”

There is genuine insight in that statement, but Godin doesn’t develop it sufficiently. In a longer and more carefully written book, he might have explored how networks and networking are pushing aside traditional communications media . . . how celebrity affects the sales of books, music, and clothing . . . how ever-smaller and more specialized subcultures are multiplying like amoebae. Maybe somebody else will take this up someday. Or — who knows? — maybe somebody already has.

Godin is quick to lavish scorn on those he dislikes or disrespects, and apparently the 12 or 13 million people who work in or for the U.S. nonprofit sector are high on his list. (Presumably, that would include me.) For example, he writes, “Take a look at the top fifty charities on the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s top four hundred charity list. During the last forty years, only a handful of charities on this list have changed. Why? Because donors didn’t want to take risks.” Godin’s writing is littered with silly generalizations like this.

So, with all these flaws, is Tribes worth the time and trouble to read? Yes. Here, for example, is how Godin illustrates his highly unconventional definition of faith: “People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them. They often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves. What leaders do: they give people stories they can tell themselves. Stories about the future and about change.” You’re not likely to find a simpler or more direct definition of leadership than that.

ISBN-10: 1591842336

ISBN-13: 978-1591842330

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Filed under Business, Nonfiction