Don’t just talk about your idea, do something about it!
Eoghan Ryan Social Impact Manager at Social Innovation Fund Ireland
In late 2013 I returned home after six years in Australia and the first thing I did was to take a walk around my native city of Cork. I was shocked by the widespread dereliction and vacancy across many of its main streets. I developed an idea and was going to do something about it. I sent emails to Councillors, chewed the ear off my parents and anyone else who would listen. Fast forward five months and I was still talking about it! The best advice I ever received was ‘Eoghan I’m sick of listening to you, you just need to pick a site and start’. This was the humble beginning of Reimagine Cork. Four years later we’ve completed over forty artistic installations across the city and are scaling our idea into other Cork County towns.
In my day job with Social Innovation Fund Ireland, we back non-profit organisations with growth capital and supports so they can scale across Ireland and maximise impact. But what about the innovators with ideas only? We’ve started to invest in ideas only through SOUP Dublin, but there’s always more people who need support/guidance on how to get their idea up and running. Recent Catalyst events prove there’s a pipeline of ideas but the ‘how’ to get started can be daunting. In the absence of an obvious social innovation hub for people with ideas (refer to my previous article), what should people do to ensure their idea is at least piloted and all that energy doesn’t dissipate? The below are the three tips I’d share with anyone looking to get their idea off the ground.
Find a mentor you trust
The person who told me to shut up and pilot the Reimagine Cork concept immediately became my mentor. I trusted their judgement and used it as a compass. Whether you’re conceptualising an idea or delivering your solution day to day, you always need someone to soundboard off to ensure you’re heading on the right path. Finding a mentor who knows when to listen and when to advise is a powerful asset that can often save you heading down multiple rabbit holes!
Build a team and pilot your idea
Whilst it’s important to pilot your idea quickly, if I had my time over again I’d have built a more rounded team from the start. Matching diversely skilled people from your network to a solution that aims to tackle societal issues is more appealing than you think. Assess where you are not personally strong, map out the roles you need for a tight, well-rounded team and start recruiting. As soon as you have your team, pilot your idea.
Measure, iterate and go again
You’ll never get everything right the first time around and quite frankly there’s never a perfect time to start (maybe you haven’t built that perfect team yet). Pick a date to launch your pilot and stick to it. On a warm summer’s evening in 2014, we piloted Reimagine Cork by cleaning graffiti off traffic signs on North Main Street. People stared at us, some passed smart remarks, but most were appreciative of what we were trying to do. We measured the reaction of shopkeepers and passersby, tweaked a few things and went again.
The old Samuel Beckett phrase resonates with me when I think back about those first few pilot sessions – “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” Often it’s the lessons we learn from failing at the beginning that help us better develop ideas and turn them into robust solutions that leave a lasting impact on our society.