Purposeful Innovation can be Transformative

food pantry

Innovation often leads transformative leaders away from concerns about the survival and sustainability of their own organizations or some important aspects of their current operations. Defining overriding purpose above the particularities of one’s own corporate mission often results in huge, unanticipated breakthrough events that can come in large, life-altering, and mission-altering waves.

Two examples:

  1. A small food pantry with a rather self-evident mission (to distribute foodstuffs to hungry people), embraces a larger purpose imposed by a much larger community: respect, community development, and personal empowerment.
    Results are the emergence of a treasure trove of community intelligence with clear marching orders for specific action, as well as a set of new values for going forward and for growth.
  2. A fledgling, nonprofit community development corporation with a rather ill-defined mission (produce affordable housing, i.e., “build stuff”) and no money (literally) takes innovative action along a surprising pathway to unexpected net worth and, for the sector, scale.
    Results are the formation of the company leads to a small apartment development to prove “up-ability”
    that leads to several failed concepts and small, difficult projects … that lead to $40,000,000 downtown, affordable housing development involving an adaptive reuse strategy for a 50-year-old building vacant for 20 years … that leads to very positive development partnerships with for-profit companies that advances affordable housing development in Dallas while driving income to the company’s bottom line, that leads to … a profit-only endeavor to underwrite the costs of the company’s ongoing operations, that leads to … the formation of a complex, extended partnership to construct 50 small houses for the hardest-to-house homeless persons, that leads to … visions of completely new sorts of housing development for families and individuals of all income levels in the larger community.


Values learned along the “purposeful innovation” pathway:

  • Be open to a larger “everything” than originally imagined (work product, team, partnership, bank account, bias for action, and the joy of risk)!
  • Don’t allow your innovative notions to be defeated solely by concerns over capital.
  • “Find” your narrative. Once you find it, wear it out with endless repetition.
  • Fall in love with adjustments and mid-course (or any point along the way, for that matter) corrections.
  • Remember, you don’t need enemies — the work of innovation is hard enough. You do need forgiveness, humility, courage, joy in good work, and the good friends you make as you accomplish it.
  • And, all kinds of other stuff, all of which, we meticulously “unpack” together — sort of like Christmas all year long!

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Larry James has provided executive leadership since joining CitySquare in 1994. Known in the Dallas faith, business, and media communities as a social entrepreneur and committed servant to the people (...)

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