Within the world of social entrepreneurship, there has been a focus on scaling programs to meet the needs of more and more people. This scaling effort has only had a limited effect to bring about the intention of the work being done. Part of the reason for this limitation is that scale is an industrial age term that is not applicable to human relationships or interactions. It aptly describes what takes place within the mechanical world, a world in which widgets are produced one after the other with little or no differentiation in how they are manufactured. Scaling of these efforts, which may range from being very simple to being quite complicated, do not accurately describe what takes place in the complex world of human interactions. Complex and complicated describe two very different kinds of worlds. Scale can take place in any environment in which the physical pieces can be brought together. Complex interactions and relationships are all situational and context-dependent. They take place within an environment that influences the interaction, whether those are prevailing cultural situations or coming out of specific ways of thinking about the world.
When we are involved in complex interactions, whether we are relating to only one other person or to many, something emerges out of those interactions that is greater than the sum of the parts and is not contained alone within the parts. Complex interactions are for the most part bio-based, non-mechanical, non-linear and take place among complex adaptive systems. Since social entrepreneurs, being human complex adaptive systems, are involved in interactive relational efforts, as opposed to the mechanical processes of manufacturing, scaling operations is simply not an effective description of what is taking place. Perhaps a better term for describing and growing these social interactive efforts is, reach. Reach is defined here as an extension from self toward other. In making that effort, it is an invitation to meet and join and relate within a mutual interaction, and toward that end, form a social collaboration.
While there may be many more ingredients within the interactive soup from which our reach emerges, there are three essential elements that help describe the extension of our reach beyond the self toward other. They are: Encounter, Engagement, and Enactment. However, at any point within this interactive system, rejection can surface and derail the entire process effort. But when these three elements are effectively applied, our reach can be extended toward the development, goals, and objections we envision. It is within this reach toward other that we move from an individual effort to one embodied in relationship and interaction, and ultimately social collaboration.
But what do we mean by encounter, engagement, and enactment? Encounter is how we meet other, our willingness to be open to another and meet them, not just superficially, but at a level of connectedness that lowers our barriers and allows a genuine and authentic conversation to take place. This requires a level of self-awareness and mind-training to be able to show-up ready to encounter the other. Our same old ways may not be enough to build the relationships required to extend our reach if we are stuck in old ways of thinking and we are unable to do the work required in encountering another. That work shows up in how we get to know one another.
We learn about each other through the stories we share about our life experiences. We learn how we relate to each other and the world through our reaction to those stories—do they keep us down, enliven our lives, limited our ability to develop, demonstrate our perception of humor, our willingness to meet the world as it shows up. When the stories we tell about ourselves emerge from an open and friendly heart, we connect. That ability to connect and remain open to the goodness we find in that encounter with another readies us for the next step we must take together.
Traditionally, engagement is period of time that proceeds marriage. However in this context, we are not necessarily looking for a lifelong commitment, although that might certainly emerge, but rather our commitment to work together to solve a problem that is bigger than either or any of us. In making this commitment to engage together, we form a bond and a responsibility toward the relationship that formed within our encounter together. This is the point when our willingness to interact comes together with our need to address the situation before us.
Engagement also implies our ability to change on a personal level, allow for change in others, and to make sure the changes we wish to bring to a system can be accommodated by that system. If the boundaries in which the system operates are neither resilient nor accommodating, any concerted effort could threaten the system in such a way that it rejects the effort, or is completely over-powered by it, and since its boundaries are not resilient enough to accommodate the change, it simply breaks apart.
The chaotic state that ensues requires a complete rebounding in order to affect the desired change. At these rather cathartic moments, a good deal of the old system is lost or dissipated, and something new needs to be reformed. However within that reformation, we must be careful because at the moment of reforming we lock into the new system all its potential and limitations. If its potential outweighs its limitations, it can effectively reach out into the world and have a profound impact. If the limitations and potential equation is reversed, the system may be DOA—dead on arrival.
Engaging with others toward a better end is at the heart of our reaching beyond self toward other. And we are seeing these collaborations happening in greater numbers, because they must. As we demonstrate in example after example in Creating Good Work—The World’s Leading Social Entrepreneurs Show How to Build a Healthy Economy, engaging with others to meet the challenges we face is how we get this work done.
And finally, Enactment is doing the work that needs to be done. As our reach extends, more work needs to take place. We cannot neglect to take into account the situations or the context we encounter in each new iteration, because they will invariably shape and inform our activity, and we cannot limit our reaching out to others in our effort to develop and grow the work before us. The work cannot be done alone. The social collaboratives we enact and which become empowered need to continually reestablish the same kinds of resilient boundaries that have successfully supported earlier efforts. Unlike mechanical scaling operations, complex relation-based organizations need to be constantly diligent and sensitive to the environment in which they are operating and continually mindful of the conditions that can affect the interactions taking place.
We would love to have the simplicity or would even settle for the complicated state in which both instances we can learn to accurately predict what we can expect from future scaling. But unfortunately, the world of human complex interactions, doesn’t afford that capability. Reaching out toward the other implies a level of unpredictability that can only be addressed through our recognition of the basic goodness each of us brings to our work. Joining those efforts into a collective response reaches into the hearts of each participant and from that relational connectivity, we are able to reach even further. In doing so we must, with every encounter, recognize and appreciate our inherent goodness, humanity and connection to other. It is what separates us from widgets and mechanical operations, and holds the promise of reaching the opportunities and solutions before us.