Posted by: Don Linnen | 25 March 2008

Competent or Brilliant?

What’s your nonprofit like? Is it really good, semi-great, or just limping along?

Master marketer Seth Godin in his book, Small is the New Big makes the point that people and companies can either be competent or brilliant. Given those two choices, I think you would hope your organization is competent. Or would you?

Godin contends that competent organizations have “a predictable, reliable process for solving a particular set of problems. They solve the problem the same way, every time.” Sounds good to me.

Competence is a good thing when you’re going out for your favorite burger and fries. You want what you want. You don’t want any variations. You depend on getting exactly those flavors you crave.

A competent burger joint in my neck of the woods is Gazeebo Burgers. They have maybe the best vege burger in town. It’s good food at a good price. There buns are great! It’s always consistent. It’s something you can depend on when you’re hungry. The good folks at Gazeebo Burgers are very competent in what they do.

But it’s real tough to get a green hatch chili burger there.

A brilliant restaurant a couple of miles away is Tramontana. These guys get a “wow” when it comes to satisfying your taste buds! But their menu changes on a regular basis. It’s almost always great…but not always always great. Sometimes, they don’t come close. It’s those times that I find myself wishing for that good ol’ Gazeebo burger.

The Tramontana chef creates menus based on what provisions are available. He adapts to what is in season. Often those creations are brilliant. But they’re not to everyone’s tastes. That’s the risk he takes with changing menus.

So there are my (and Godin’s) comparisons of a competent eatery to a brilliant restaurant. The competent is consistent. To the point of always being the same. Not a bad thing as long as you don’t have to adapt to change.

Now are you getting my point about organizations? When is the last time you looked at your strategic plan? When is the last time you had to change because your clients or your donors were facing new challenges?

It’s good to be competent. Necessary even. But you have got to have a little of that brilliant gene in your organizational DNA. You need it not just to react and adapt to change, but to anticipate it. Otherwise you may soon find a brilliant burger joint moving in around the corner.

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