How to get on the ‘social entrepreneurship train’: Are you a doer or a planner?

Posted on February 3, 2011


Most people like to help, and most people really wish to make a contribution to something which makes our societies or environment better off. Purpose drives us, motivates us, gets us exited and makes sense in our lives. The thing is how do you know how and where to contribute?

I hear this often talking to others about social topics, that they don’t know what exactly to engage in. There is such a willingness and desire to ‘do something’, but we are often uncertain what to do or where to begin. Perhaps, hidden in the shadow of uncertainty fear resides. Maybe at times the biggest obstacles to getting engaged in creating a positive change in the world is our fear of failure and perhaps our fear of our own vast potential as powerful change agents. It seems we are afraid of leaving the comfort zone, jumping into the uncertainty of whether our wings are going to make us fly or fall when pursuing a new idea. So we stall, and plan. We attempt to plan our way out of the seemingly uncertainty, because if we just have the right action plan, business plan, something plan, it will be less uncertain. Not that writing business plans and such is irrelevant, but if it simply keeps stalling the moment of action because of the fear hiding in the closet, there seems to be a discrepancy between the planning and the doing despite aiming at the same goal. The planning should not strangle the doing, nor should the doing bulldoze the planning. The question is then, where is the delicate balance-point?

It might be highly individual, but I wonder if there on a general level is an ideal place of behavior between the planning and the doing. I have heard many successful entrepreneurs say in hindsight, that planning is a great exercise but in reality much turns out differently, and instead they continuously changed and adapted for a long while until they found the model that worked; and they usually ended up, pretty far from the original plan written-up by the kitchen table in the early days of the entrepreneurial adventure. Not surprisingly. In the light of experience, they often advocate ‘get out there, try and do your best’! Where planning gives the initial direction, helps clarifying the concept and business case, making it comprehensible for others; doing must obviously make it happen. I have met social entrepreneurs on both the extreme doing side, completely neglecting the homework and the business planning, and the extreme planning side, never getting away from the papers and the kitchen table planning sessions. Could it be that it is a continuum and we all have a tendency to lean to one or the other side? Maybe this is a very important point to be aware off or maybe it doesn’t matter at all, because if you truly are passionate for and a firm believer in your social goal, then you will continue until you succeed whether having ‘too much’ or ‘too little’ initial planning and doing. As Henry Ford famously once said “whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”

Is there an ideal balance point between the doing and the planning or is the formula for social entrepreneurial success as individual as the people doing it, so it is nonsense even asking these questions? Surely it is not a black-and-white answer, if there even is any. Yet, I cannot help to think that there is something about the doing. I have heard so many successful social entrepreneurs tell how they didn’t really know what they went into or what exactly they were going to do, they just went out there ‘into the streets’ and interacted with a given target group until they began to understand the root of the problems and tried out with different solutions. Rocco Falconer is one of those social entrepreneurs.

With the above thoughts in mind, watch this inspiring TED-talk about how he, as a 22-year old fresh university graduate, from scratch started a social enterprise in Sierra Leone. Today his organization Planting Promises runs five interrelated projects that aims to generate wealth to the country through business, and from the profit, they have helped build several schools supplying free education for children and adults. “When we talk about poverty, we need to also talk about the poverty of aspiration,” Rocco Falconer says. Planting Promises is about fostering local sustainable growth, independent from foreign aid, and through business and education give people the capacity and inspiration to change their own lives.

The story of Rocco Falconer serves not only as a great inspiration, but also as an excellent example of how to get ‘on the change-making movement’ and find a way to contribute. The video speaks strongly to the ‘doer’ within us all. The inspirational writer and speaker Robin Sharma writes that “courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to walk through your fear in pursuit of a goal that is important to you.”

Maybe the key is, whether you predominantly are a doer or a planner, to get into the mindset of success, let the fear out of the closet such that you can walk through it instead, and then trust in your wings and take action. Let the doer and the planner befriend each other.