If we are all the same how will we ever innovate?

Recently I was interviewed about innovation in the charity sector, and I’m sorry to say that when asked, I struggled to name any campaigns or services that I’d seen that had inspired me, or I that I thought were creative or stand out. I could only think of variations on a theme.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’m wrong and that there is a wealth of different thinking and new ideas in progress that I’m unaware of.*

Right now, when I look at fundraising I see a lot of the same. Similar mass participation events, mud, obstacle, beer challenges and more recently membership offers for example from Scope and Mind. When one product is successful others copy, the market gets saturated and then it starts over again.

At the moment there seems to be more talk in the sector than usual about diversity. And diversity is important. I don’t just mean race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age or physical abilities. I mean diversity specifically in terms different beliefs and values. Because from an innovation perspective when we all think the same it’s hard to develop fundraising ideas that are different and therefore stand out.

I’ve just finished reading the excellent book Friend of a Friend by David Burkus about understanding how your networks affect your life and career.

Burkus talks about something called homophily. The phenomenon that in both our personal and professional lives that we are attracted to people like us. It talks specifically about how in business we recruit people like us, from a pool of people like us. It’s reminiscent of the phrase ‘birds of a feather flock together’.

Burkus tells the story of when Gimlet Media (an award-winning podcasting company helping listeners better understand the world and each other) realised that the lack of diversity in their team was a problem. They were growing fast and needed to recruit new people to the team. They looked at their current staff and noticed 24 of their 27 employees were white and many had got the job through shared networks and a background in radio broadcast. Essentially the people who made up their staff team were very similar. Given the nature of their podcast of shining a light on the world and each other, troubled by the lack of diversity and inspired by their commitment to transparency they decided to do a series of podcasts with their staff to explore and highlight their homophily issue.

While interviewing an openly gay colleague a question arose; beyond the surface did they lack ideological diversity? They discussed that the vast majority of staff were not politically or religiously diverse. For example, no one had any strong feelings about religion. During the interview the producer sitting outside asked if he could join in. He said he went to church every Sunday he would class himself as religious but because no one else spoke about their faith he kept it to himself.

I have a hunch that this also happens in other organisations, (perhaps even in yours?) that even when people are different those differences are played down in order to fit in with the thinking and beliefs of the majority.

Why is it so hard to develop diverse teams in fundraising?

In fundraising we tend to recruit from a small pool of people already working in fundraising. We advertise in and recruit from the same agencies specialising in charity sector recruitment, charity recruitment pages of national papers, sector press and the same online groups and forums.

More often than not you must have experience of the same type of role to get your next role. So, you join a new organisation and replicate what you learned before with some additions and often you even bring your creative agency with you. No wonder I see similar looking campaigns over and over again.

We end up operating in an echo chamber.

If it is a human condition to flock together, and we flock to other people who think and act like us we have to work very very hard indeed to recruit diversity. Then when we do recruit people with different backgrounds and beliefs how do we stop people diluting their difference in order to conform to the majority homogony?

If we truly wish innovation in our fundraising to flourish we need to work really hard to overcome this homophily effect so we don’t have a situation where we all think and act the same. It takes a massive effort to swim against the strong current of similarity. Whether as an individual or as an organisation, if you can do this then you have a fighting chance of being different, standing out and raising more money for the causes that need you.

Join the Lucidity Network 

One of the reasons I’ve set up the Lucidity Network – an online and offline network with exclusive content and practical tools is to create a diverse network to help people to think differently and get better results. Already we have members from a mix of sectors from around the world.

The Lucidity Network is open for new members a few times a year. Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  Don’t tell your friends though.

*If you are working on something innovative please do share in the comments

Radical or incremental when it comes to innovation the key word is confidence

Innovation is an old-fashioned term these days. It seems that to keep it sexy you’ve got to use a prefix. Disruptive or radical, marginal or incremental. We can’t just plain innovate anymore.

In my experience whether innovation is disruptive, radical, marginal or whatever the next buzz prefix is; unless you have innovation in your job title innovation gets passed on as someone else’s job. Innovation is the work of the ‘creative people’. I felt this when I was an innovation manager in an organisation, all sorts of stuff landed on my desk with a friendly post-it attached along the lines of ‘its innovation – you work it out’.

In my view the best innovation happens when people work together, build on each other’s ideas, add new elements, develop new perspectives, understand audiences and focus on how to make the idea a reality.

I think the biggest barrier to delivering innovation (of which there are many lets face it, fear of failure, fear of success, internal politics, external politics, no budget, too busy, too many deadlines, wanting immediate results, the list goes on) is lack of confidence.

Lack of confidence, which is incubated by all the blockers and barriers that we battle with on a day-to-day basis when we try to create any sort of change.

I think it all starts in school. You get rewarded for getting things right, not for inquisitive enquiry, being different or asking questions. Like Pavlov’s dog we go to work and are rewarded for getting things right, for conforming. The only people with objectives around thinking differently or (dare I say it) failure are the innovation managers. Organisations talk about innovation, but their structures and processes do not encourage any different or creative thinking. Innovation is often blocked (see blockers above) or fails to gain traction because insufficient time and resource are invested into helping it succeed.

That’s why over at Lucidity we work with people to help them build both their confidence and their capacity for innovation. Because we’ve learned from our own hard-fought failures that without confidence even the best ideas die on the vine.

Confidence is such a big deal that I’ve set up the Lucidity Network to provide inspiration and a support network to help give people the confidence achieve the results they want. The Lucidity Network is open for new members a few times a year.  Sign up to the waiting list to be the first to know when the Network is open. In the meantime you can join the Lucidity Community free Facebook group  for clearer thinking and better results.  


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