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Nancy Lublin

Nancy Lublin

Posted March 3, 2009 | 05:23 PM (EST)

Innovation is Great but Execution is Better


The White House is quietly launching a Social Innovation Office. From what I can glean online (gossip) leads me to believe that the concept is to gather "founders" of innovative social organizations all in one place and pick their creative brains for ways to implement change.... kind of a government-sponsored innovation clearing house. It's already on the White House website and online buzz suggests that Cheryl Dorsey (who I know personally and think is kinda awesome) has been tapped to run it.

I'm an entrepreneur. I'm married to an entrepreneur. So I haven't just sipped the entrepreneurship cool-aid, I bleed this stuff. I absolutely believe that social innovation can drive job creation, competition (spurring growth), inspire cultures, accelerate change, etc. Entrepreneurship is the very back bone of our country and what makes us great - we are a nation of founders. Entrepreneurs like Gates, Dell, and even Kopp (as in Wendy) have become American folk heroes. Fair enough. Those three are rock stars.

Still, I think we've all gone a bit loopy with the entrepreneurship love-fest. Everyone wants to be a founder these days. "Entrepreneur" has become a job category- like a doctor or lawyer. People say, "I'd like to start something, I just don't know what." They sit at Starbucks for weeks, hunched over laptops, trying to figure out what kind of business to launch- ranging from restaurant to clothing line to space travel. (That was literally one friend of mine) And, when you run something, the first question people ask is, "Are you the founder?" A profound look of disappointment crosses their face when you reveal you are just the CEO. CEOs aren't cool. Founders are.

Have we taken our love too far? Are we obsessed with entrepreneurs?

I think it's time to tone down the "social innovation" love-fest and turn to social execution. Truth be told, the commonly quoted statistic is that 80% of start-ups fail. There are over 1.5 million not for profits in America. Do we need more new ones? Or do we need the dozens of existing breast cancer groups to learn to work together. Instead of another article about great visionaries or an award for founders, maybe we need a prize for amazing managers. Maybe we should start celebrating turnarounds, COOs, or (shockingly) middle management.

Where would our companies and country be without the worker-bee? For so long, that term has been heard as derogatory. I'm proposing a change: love thy worker-bee. Celebrate the ones who toil without complaint, play on a team, construct the hive, produce the honey... executing the plan!

So this is an open call to America: Be biased toward action. Hug a numbers-cruncher today. Say "thanks" to your middle management. Remember the name of the new secretary who keeps you on schedule and the "geeky" tech guy who makes it possible for you to read HuffPo.

Social Innovation might have found its way to the White House, but its execution that will keep those lights shining.

(Written with James C. Elbaor)