Editor's Choice, August 2013: The Social Entrepreneur's Playbook
This month’s Editor’s Choice, The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook, offers a guide for social enterprises who are getting going, tools for them to stress test their idea, reduce uncertainty, and think themselves into the head of their target clients.
There are many reasons I like this book: it is honest, practical, grounded in examples and focused on the beneficiaries of the ventures it describes. Opening with a frank recognition of the high level of uncertainty that makes the going tough for new social enterprises, the authors suggest that this should not discourage entrepreneurs from taking the plunge, but rather drive them to take a systematic approach to new ventures, develop an awareness of risks and prepare for the unexpected.
The book focuses on the first phase of a ‘proven 3-phase method for successfully testing, launching and scaling a social enterprise.’ Play by play, the authors help the entrepreneur tackle the challenge of defining the social problem, articulating the commercial opportunity, identifying target populations and addressing the range of operational realities that are bound to arise. Each of five steps is explored in a chapter, laying out the issue at hand and using examples to show how successful social enterprises have tackled it. Each chapter ends with two practical tools - “chapter checklist” to ensure that the reader is on the right track, and a “tough love test” to make sure all bases have been covered before moving on to the next step of the process.
One of the most interesting parts of the book explores ‘willingness to adopt’ and the need to understand the customer or client. This encourages the entrepreneur to really get into the intended target’s head and work out which segment will be most willing to adopt the product or service. This would be based on a contextualised version of “ten attractiveness features” that include salience to the customer (how much does the need matter to them?), visibility of benefit (how easy is it for them to see the benefit?) and fundability of the benefit by them or for them (can they afford the solution or will someone pay for it on their behalf).
The book also emphasises the importance of planning and experimentation – the process of sieving out ‘solutions’ from many ideas that will fail early on. Social entrepreneurship may not be for the faint-hearted and an “enterprising mind set” is the key ingredient for success, but with stress-tested and robust ideas at each step of the process (aided by the ‘tough love tests’ outlined), setting up a successful social enterprise is a process accessible to any entrepreneur with a clear social problem and revenue-generating plan.
All in all, the playbook is a comprehensive guide to setting up a social enterprise and would be useful for anyone thinking of doing so, or in the earlier stages of an inclusive business. The authors, Ian C. Macmillan and James D. Thompson, are academic directors at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and have considerable experience working with social enterprises. The book, in fact, is their own little social enterprise - just the first part of the three phase process that they will publish in an expanded version of the book later in the year. It is, in a sense, an incomplete draft on which they are seeking feedback from readers that will be incorporated into the final version. By doing so, they are using their own principles of testing their ideas and sieving out the best ones.
This is the first time the Editor’s Choice is an e-book. The link in this blog takes you to the Wharton page where you will need to follow the instructions to download it.
All previous Editor's Choice blogs can be found here.