A recent article in The Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) could spark a healthy revolution if enough people put its principles into practice.  “Social Innovation from the Inside Out,” by long-time social change practitioners Warren Nilsson and Tana Paddock, takes on the thorny question of what makes some organizations better than others at social innovation. 

Although many scholars and practitioners focus on expanding networks to maximize leverage, Paddock and Nilsson focus on internal dynamics – “inscaping,” they call it, with a nod to the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.  By “inscaping,” they mean paying close attention to intra-personal and interpersonal experience within the organization. 

The authors write, “When we’re trying to wrestle with the large and complex issues ‘out there,’ why would it help to dwell on the relatively small issues “in here”? Part of the answer may be that, in the end, there is no ‘out there.’ The cultural, economic, technological, and moral complexities that social innovators confront don’t respect organizational boundaries.   . . .  They are in the room.”

This simple observation is brilliant.  Clearly, there’s no escaping the personal at work; but how many organizations actively consider, respect, and incorporate the personal experience of their members? 

Paddock and Nilsson distinguish between work inscaping, which involves frankly exploring the personal experience of day-to-day work, and life inscaping, which involves sharing aspects of life outside of work.  They note that some organizations are very good at one or the other (many are good at neither), but that the transformative organization is good at both. 

Obviously, being good at either or both of these forms of inscaping might require considerable organizational change.  Happily, Paddock and Nilsson offer some very concrete strategies for beginning that change.  These include “role hacking” (switching roles for a day or two), encouraging divergent opinion and thought, personalizing feedback, and eliciting personal responses when planning or evaluating programs– not just emotions, but insights, doubts, and hunches.

Two important points of clarification:  “inscaping” is not group therapy, and it’s not a management-driven, top-down exercise.  It must be organization-wide to be effective.

What do you think?  Can you see your organization embarking on a process to enhance work and life inscaping?  How would you start? 

I’d love to discuss it with you.  Be in touch!



03/03/2014 1:19am

Thanks for this great summary, Theresa. I love the question you end on, as it's a question we're actively grappling with ourselves. I am curious to hear what people think.

As a starter, we created two self-guided sessions to help people introduce the concept and practice of inscaping into their organizations. If any of your readers are interested in trying them out, they are freely accessible here: http://organizationunbound.org/in-practice/. We're always looking for ways of improving them, so feedback of any sort is very welcome.

And since publishing this article, we wrote another article that might interest your readers. It's a bit more academic in tone, but the case examples are, for us at least, quite helpful: http://www.scribd.com/doc/192022484/Inscaping-Exploring-the-Connection-Between-Experiential-Surfacing-and-Social-Innovation


03/12/2014 9:07am

Tana, thanks for the comments, and the additional links! I've seen the self-guided sessions, and they're terrific. I look forward to reading and posting about your recent article. I hope we'll be in touch again soon.

All best wishes,

12/25/2014 6:39am

I really prefer to reading your post. Thank you a lot for taking the time for you to share such a nice information and facts

12/28/2014 8:40am

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07/08/2015 10:37pm

Inescaping seems like a good, appropriate concept. I've been to different organizations in the past years and I have noticed that the 'core values' are nothing but words written on a document or on the walls of the company building. For most of these companies, only the mission and vision are pursued but the values are not really lived out. I like how inescaping encourages employees to take a closer look and examine the work that they do and how they do it. It allows them to check their motivation and their guiding principles. The variety or unity of these motivations and guiding principles will help the company a lot in identifying problem areas, strengths, and opportunities for improvement.

Thanks for your sharing!


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