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The 6 Key Mindsets of Social Entrepreneurship (& Entrepreneurship & Changemaking)

In this blog:

Mindsets are Important, but Always “Start with Why”

Mindset 1: Own Your Journey

Mindset 2: Productive Paranoia

Mindset 3: Camaraderie

A Special Word About Outside Experts

Mindset 4: Frugality

Mindset 5: Adopt the Adoption Curve

Mindset 6: Embrace Effective Learning

Bonus: A Mindset Chart to Help You Get Started


Mindsets are Important, but Always “Start with Why”


Starting with “why” is ‘table stakes’ for being a social entrepreneur, an entrepreneur or a changemaker. Your “why” drives you, it’s the core reason you are undertaking your journey. You have to be sure about your “why” and have a passion for it.

It is referred to as ‘table stakes’ because, just as in poker where the term originated, if you don’t have it, you don’t have a seat at the table – i.e. if you don’t have a true “why”, you are neither a social entrepreneur, an entrepreneur, or a changemaker.

“Business is a means to an end. Do a life plan before you make your business plans.” Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham, The Knack

If you are confused about what a “why” is or can’t tell your “why” from your “what” and “how”, immediately check out Simon Sinek’s powerful video “Start with Why”:


Cognitive bias tip*: If you feel the need to watch Sinek’s video and do so, but it doesn’t change your thinking and influence how you will act differently, watch it again or get feedback from a friendly, wise, skeptic (more on these people below) until it does.

*Want to learn more about cognitive biases? This will be a key part of the Trico Foundation’s ongoing work. Stay tuned for more blogs and tools by subscribing to our newsletter. “Outsmart Your Own Biases” by Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman and John W. Payne is also a great resource.

Mindset 1: Own Your Journey


This applies to all the information you get and all you do. Don’t do things simply to please funders or investors, or anyone for that matter (including customers!).

“Don’t execute other peoples’ advice if you can’t explain why you’re doing it.” Steve Blank

Always do what you think is right and assume sole responsibility for that. If you get troubling or conflicting advice, don’t get frustrated, welcome the diverse intel and use it all to make the best decision you can.  Remember, even best practices aren’t always best practices; always apply them through the filter of your particular situation.

And be very careful when you hit roadblocks. Putting the blame on someone else (for example, concluding that you are hitting a roadblock because someone else is stupid or needs to change) puts the fate of your journey in their hands. Avoid that whenever possible. Instead, keep ownership of your journey by asking “what could I do differently to change these results?” and draw on the power of the other mindsets.

Mindset 2: Productive Paranoia


This phrase comes from strategy guru Jim Collins:

“The best leaders we studied did not have a visionary ability to predict the future. They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations. They were not more risk taking, more bold, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons. They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.”

The paranoia part is having the strength to be open, truly open, to being wrong when you have done everything you can – the thinking, the interviews, the research, the testing, the reviewing of data – to make sure you are right.

“If you have not fully embraced and explored the idea that you are wrong, how can you be so sure you are right?” Trico Charitable Foundation

The productive part has two aspects. First, it is doing your due diligence but not falling into the paralysis of analysis. Secondly, it is seeing your paranoia as uplifting – an exciting, never-ending opportunity to learn and ultimately grow the impact that is your “why” – rather than an incapacitating or demoralizing fear.

Mindset 3: Camaraderie


The importance of teamwork is growing in entrepreneurial literature. Camaraderie builds on that, but to a whole other level in a couple of ways. One, it highlights the deeper emotional bonds, the connections, the resonance, that happens when teams truly click in pursuit of a common and powerful “why”. Secondly, it also goes broader, as it sees the value of having camaraderie with others outside your organization, including outside experts, peers, stakeholders and the many communities you are genuinely part of.

Of course, you can’t have camaraderie with everyone on the planet, but you should shoot for it in your key relationships.  Nor will you have the same level of camaraderie with outsiders as you do with your internal team, but the key principles to an effective relationship are there, only the degree changes.

For more insights on the variety of people that can help your efforts, check out our Stakeholders blog.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]A Special Word About Outside Experts:

One key relationship that needs camaraderie but is often overlooked is the ‘outside expert’. We suggest you look for experts who are friendly, wise, skeptics:

Friendly: Willing to be candid, they also genuinely care about your success;

Wise: Not only are they smart, they have the specific wisdom your venture needs; and

Skeptical: They are not contrarian for the sake of being contrary, but have a ‘prove it to me attitude’ that forces you to really think things through in a productive manner. Also avoid people that root for you so much they don’t have it in them to be skeptical or candid.

The phrase ‘outside experts’ is used here, not because they all should be outside your organization – after all, insiders are crucial and should be consulted too – but to remind you that at least some of your friendly, wise, skeptics should be outside your organization. The different vantage point and perspective should be invaluable.

Tasha Eurich’s wonderful book Insight: Why We’re Not as Self Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life touches on this topic and notes 83 percent of top-performing leaders regularly solicited feedback, compared to 17% of the worst performing ones. While it is comforting to note feedback may increase your chances of greatness, notice the other side of the spectrum: The cautionary tale of the 17% who got feedback and were still among the worst performers. That means it’s not enough to get expert feedback, it has to be quality feedback.

Therefore, not only do you need to make sure they are indeed friendly, wise and skeptical, Eurich advises you to make sure the questions you use to seek feedback are specific. She gives the example of someone seeking feedback about how they come across at meetings. That person had some evidence her challenge may have been timidity. When she reached out to someone for feedback, rather than the general “How do you think I come across?”, she asked, “I think I have a tendency to come across as timid and non-authoritative at meetings; is that your experience?”

This is where owning your journey comes back into play. Take responsibility for:

a) Who you select to get feedback from;

b) The specificity/quality of the questions you ask;

c) Whether and how you actually take their advice;

d) The degree to which that relationship helps you. [/author_info] [/author]


Mindset 4: Frugality


What a wonderful word. Standing in between cheap (too little money) and extravagant (too much), frugality seeks just the right amount of resources to get the job done.

Recently we suggested to a budding social entrepreneur that not all problems can be solved with money. They responded with: “I would love to see the social ventures that don’t need money to get started!” Respectfully, that misses the point. Of course good ideas for ventures need money. The problem is bad ideas also feel they need money. So the difference between bad and good ideas isn’t the need for money, it’s whether the money will actually help. That’s where frugality comes in. It forces you to make sure the money will solve your problem, and then it makes sure you only take as much as you need to solve the problem. Don’t forget, if you are not open to the fact that your good idea may actually be bad, you aren’t embracing productive paranoia.

“While ideas are cheap, acting on them is quite expensive.” Ash Maurya

Even if you have a good idea, frugality works to your advantage as it increases the chance of money being available if you need to come back for more to help you scale. As well, even with a good idea you may have to do multiple experiments and it helps you, your mission and your funders to do those experiments as cheaply, efficiently and quickly as possible.

And never forget, too much money can be as harmful as too little, because money produces expectations, pressures, and typically a stressful clock ticking somewhere.

Finally, your frugality helps ensure money is available for other social purpose organizations with great ideas. That is crucial because: a) it means more money is available to help solve the world’s other problems; and b) the success of those ideas will lead to a cohort of peers (aka friendly, wise, skeptics) who can help you (another aspect of camaraderie).

Of course, it also pays to be frugal with other resources, such as your time and the time of others.

Cognitive bias tip: Whenever resources are involved think of Goldilocks, and remind yourself that, just like her, you need to make a choice that is just right, meeting your needs without leaving you burned or cold.

Mindset 5: Adopt the Adoption Curve


Make no mistake; all ideas that scale (or thrive, for that matter) or ‘change the world’ go through the adoption curve. That means you need to embrace a theory known as “crossing the chasm”. Created by Geoffrey Moore, “crossing the chasm” provides invaluable insights on understanding the adoption curve and turning into an ally rather than an insurmountable obstacle.

We examine this crucial issue at more length here.

Mindset 6: Embrace Effective Learning (and a Mindset Chart to Help You Get Started)


Focusing on these mindsets is a good start, but to master them you must master the meta-mindset, the mindset that enhances all the others, effective learning.

Effective learning is shrinking your feedback loops as much as possible: Everything you do that really matters should either confirm your thinking or teach you something new, and it should do so as cheaply, efficiently and quickly as possible. Effective learning is knowing what to test, how to test, and how to learn from the results of that test in a way that you use to improve your efforts and impact.

“There is no point in testing our assumptions if we then fail to use our learnings to make informed decisions.

A good process should allow teams to change direction based on learnings, and stop the project if they need to, without negative consequences for them. If this is not possible, then our process is simply innovation theatre.” Tendayi Viki

Owning your journey and embracing productive paranoia, camaraderie, frugality and the adoption curve will only really work for you if you are always engaging in effective learning about those mindsets.

To learn more about tools to embrace effective learning and tips on avoiding the common traps, check out our blog on this subjectWe will also expand on effective learning in subsequent blogs. For now, here is a Mindset Chart to get you started:

Click here to access chart

How to use the chart:

  • Don’t forget to own your journey on this chart. In other words, only use it if you feel it will help and always feel free tweak/adjust it based on what works for you (there is a more detailed version below if you would prefer to use that);
  • First thing every Monday morning: Fill out the Why section and mentally confirm your commitment to each mindset in the left side column (do not underestimate the power of doing this – Eurich’s book cites research confirming its effectiveness);
  • Last thing Friday: Fill out the “Friday Recap” columns. Don’t fill out every box as a chore, only fill out a box if you have something to say. And you don’t have to wait for Friday (some people prefer to write things down when they occur to them, some prefer a regular routine, some prefer both). Filling the chart out over a period of time will give you a sense of key trends – if months have gone by and you have never fill out a section, then start digging deeper as to what is causing that. And don’t shoot for perfection in filling it out, shoot for learning and improvement from the learning;
  • Keep going and review the results for each month at the end of that month. For every quarter, review all the weeks for that quarter. When you start, give it a few weeks before evaluating whether this is working, but after that stop and re-evaluate whenever it’s not helping;
  • Not the ‘filling out charts’ type? Just try using the chart to remind yourself every Monday of your “Why” and the key mindsets and see what happens.
  • Please let us know how you do.

Bonus to the Bonus: It’s always best to start small, which is what the above chart tries to do. If you feel you are ready for a more detailed version or more detail is just your style, try out this version here. Just follow the same steps described above.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Instilling these mindsets into the daily workings of your social enterprise can by tricky, but if you have any questions about the content of this blog or the above chart, please contact us at[/author_info] [/author]

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]This blog is part of the Trico Foundation’s effort to capture what it learns as it works to close gaps in society by building capacity and innovation in social entrepreneurship. The flagship effort in this regard is our A.S.E.S.S. TLC (Tools, Links and Coaching) page where you can find most of our thinking on these issues and worksheets designed to help advance your social enterprise idea. Stay tuned for further blogs on the entrepreneurial mindset (including crossing the chasm, effective learning, and overcoming cognitive bias) and the mechanics of successful social enterprises. We are excited by the progress we are making, but know we still have much to learn. We would value your perspective and feedback. Please join the conversation on twitter.[/author_info] [/author]

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