05/16/2011 02:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Poodle, a Kitten and a Really Smart Crow: Lessons in Change

If you clicked on this, you probably are a sucker for animal stories. You watch every animal video sent to you and feel a tad guilty for doing so at work. Well, you can banish that guilt, temporarily. These irresistible videos are SFW (safe for work).

Believe it or not, some viral videos contain valuable life lessons. They also teach us a few things about social innovation, the field I write about.

For instance, any entrepreneur or social entrepreneur who has suffered failure can probably relate to the excited poodle in this video:

Remind you of anyone?

Like the dog, you may have tried and failed at achieving a goal before. And like the dog, you refused to give up. You could not admit defeat. You could not let go of your brilliant idea, despite little or no evidence of its brilliance. You hung on for way too long.

Where you wanted to end up is better illustrated by this video of a surprised kitten:

You wanted more than luck or one time success. You wanted a sure thing. You wanted to know that every time you do something (scratch kitten's belly and open palms) you get the results you want (a surprised kitty). Over and over again.

In other words, you wanted a formula for success, one that you can repeat and scale.

In entrepreneurship, this is called a business model; in social entrepreneurship, a "change model" -- a repeatable and scalable formula for creating change. Others use different terms: social impact model, logic model and theory of change.

But ask most activists, change-makers and social entrepreneurs to describe their "change model" -- or whatever you call it -- and they won't know what you're talking about.

We don't tend to think that way, even though we should.

So how do we establish change models? In the social sector, the two best known approaches are called Logic Model and Theory of Change.

But a good way to start is to think of change as a process, not a product -- the recipe, not the cake. You have ingredients and then you have to take a series of actions, one at a time or simultaneously, to arrive at the desired outcome.

If you make canvas bags, what do you have to do beyond making the bags to get people to buy them and then use them habitually?

If you build wells in Africa, how do you help people use them properly and keep the wells in working order so that they don't break down after six months?

These are the questions that separate good intentions from good outcomes -- poodles from kittens.

Finding the right answers can take time. Give yourself permission to experiment and if you're not seeing success, allow yourself to "pivot" -- change course while staying grounded to what you've learned.

Let this crow be your inspiration:

Keep experimenting until you find a formula for change that is repeatable and maybe even scalable. There's no reason you have to keep hanging on to some idea that occurred to you in the shower on some random Tuesday morning.

So if you're a social entrepreneur, make establishing a CHANGE model your first priority, even if others only ask you about your BUSINESS model. While you're at it, learn the other five habits of highly effective SOCIAL entrepreneurs.

Now, go ahead and share these animal videos at work, even on a busy day. Your boss may thank you for it!