I am asked, not infrequently, what the best book is for someone who wants to learn about social innovation. Those who ask are generally looking for that one defining volume summing up the entire global movement with everything you need to know – the “Elements of Style” for people who want to change the world. Or better yet, to use Clay Shirky’s definition of a recipe, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for social enterprise.
In truth, there has been no BOOK. If you’re serious, you have to read a lot of books on wildly diverse subjects to begin to understand the systems at work in the big issues of our time. And in greater truth, you have to stop reading altogether and get out more.
But Ken Banks has written a book. And everyone should read it.
In “The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator” the ten stories Ken has compiled create a profile of a new kind of leader who, unlike most in the news today have not competed for the place and title. Instead, what these innovators have in common is the recognition of other’s pain and injustice that they weren’t willing to live with – and despite practical considerations, couldn’t ignore.
It goes on from there. We learn about the twists, turns, challenges and rewards of life at the front line of social change. It’s been called an antidote to pessimism; I would add that it’s a celebration of patience, prudence and thoughtfulness as well.
The readings we assign and recommend to our graduate students at MFA Design for Social Innovation cover centuries of time, cross silos of expertise and geographical boundaries and seem only sketchily related to each other until you’ve read quite a few of them. Ken’s book may not be the only book you have to read to understand social innovation at a deep level. But it might be the best place to begin.