Summary of When Innovation Goes Wrong

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Organizations that want to have impact in the social sector often focus too narrowly on innovation. Yet even the smartest idea won’t succeed if a social enterprise fails to implement solutions appropriately. Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair, two visiting scholars at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, identify some of the innovation traps social enterprises fall into, as well as the practices and processes that help make an innovation more effective. Although their study focuses on social enterprises, getAbstract believes that leaders in any type of business can benefit from Seelos and Mair’s advice on how to turn an innovation into success.   

About the Authors

Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair are visiting scholars at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society



People often falsely attribute the success of a social enterprise to innovation. However, what makes social enterprises effective isn’t innovation per se, but an organization’s ability to convert its “efforts into impact.” “High-impact” innovation isn’t a linear process, but a learning journey during which organizations acquire knowledge through trial-and-error while eliminating as many uncertainties as possible. By the end of a successful innovation process, organizations will have turned “uncertainty into knowledge.”  

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