It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.
Something is afoot in Salisbury. Do you sense it? People are energized. Starting community groups. Reinvigorating existing organizations. All of this, it seems, to bring new life and new direction into a community that is in transition. It is almost like Salisbury said a prayer for energy and now it is here.
Energy for what, you may ask. Innovation. In particular, social innovation.
Innovation is the art of making new things out of the old things. Salisbury has plenty of older institutions and leadership groups that have been around for a very long time. Now it seems that the times are begging for a community-wide innovation. Many are asking and organizing around this idea: how do we make our community better than it currently is? Another way to ask: how do we become a more socially innovative city?
Innovation is all the rage in technology circles. For instance, in the world of technological innovation there’s a whole conversation around design thinking. Design thinking is a creative process by which a company or group designs a product or service that is relevant to and meets a customer’s wants and desires.
Nowadays, activist and community developers have used the principles of design thinking in the practice of social innovation. Social innovation is the creative act and process by which individuals and/or groups design services and spaces that foster a healthier and more resilient community.
In the above quote attributed to innovation guru Steve Jobs of Apple (RIP), he is often interpreted as saying to not actually listen to those that will be affected by a particular good or service. What Jobs said is quite the opposite. What Jobs has said, and other ground breaking social innovators are sayng, is this: We must first listen for the unspoken needs of a community. This requires the major first step in empathic listening. Empathic listening is about listening to the unspoken words that are being said in our community. It is one thing to hear seemingly random disjointed solutions to a community challenge and quite another thing to actually listen for the deeper needs that are unspoken.
Now, imagine Salisbury.
Imagine Salisbury as a place where political, business, community leaders and everyday citizens find time to listen deeply to each other.
Imagine Salisbury as a place where all stakeholders begin to truly gather, organize and mobilize around the true unspoken needs of all the community.
Imagine Salisbury as a city where center and margins work together through the painful past, egos, group silos, isolated organizations and entrenched narrow political and business interests to create a tapestry of social innovation that turns things around.
Imagine Salisbury as a city that all our grandchildren will proudly say, “Look, they come together as a community and dream big dreams together and we are all the better for it.”
Imagine Salisbury as a place where we first listen before we act.
Anthony Smith serves on the pastoral team at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church and is a core member of the community group “The Chamber.”