You’ve Got a Lot of Nerve, Luckily


There’s both societal betterment and money to be had from social innovation, but what does it take to become an effective social innovator? According to World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab, to be a leader in the realm requires four qualities: “brains,” “soul,” “heart” and “good nerves.”

In a recent blog post for Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation, Kriss Deiglmeier considers Schwab’s four characteristics and calls the “good nerves” trait “my personal favorite,” summarizing Schwab’s description as follows: “Leaders must be bold and able to move toward their vision even with incomplete information or risky odds.”

Deiglmeier finds Schwab’s take “relevant but not complete,” adding, “Nerve is not enough, for social innovators must be comfortable navigating ambiguity and seeing possibilities in the fragmented, complex nature of our social reality as they envision a better future.”

Pardon our nerve, but that doesn’t seem all too different from what Schwab said (although it does sound a little fancier). In any case, Peter Drucker likewise wrote of the importance of guts when you’re charting a course into the future, which is inevitably full of murk.

To make the future demands courage,” Drucker declared in Managing for Results. “It demands work. But it also demands faith.”

Will your ideas or decisions necessarily pay off? No. That’s why your nerves have to be good. As we’ve noted before, the path you decide to take must be uncertain and risky.

“For the future itself is both uncertain and risky,” Drucker wrote. “Unless there is a personal commitment to the values of the idea and faith in them, the necessary efforts will therefore not be sustained.”

For that reason, while fanaticism must be avoided, “the people who work on making the future also need to be able to say with conviction: ‘This is what we really want our business to be.’”

How important do you think courage—versus clear-eyed analysis and other factors—is in decision making?