Posted by: Don Linnen | 28 October 2008

Hope is Not a Strategy

There’s lots of hope in the air these days. With two wars going on, the economy in a shambles, both poles melting, and another half dozen issues over which to wring your hands, you’d better have hope.

As my friend Mark told me: “Both candidates have pledged to lower my taxes, improve my healthcare, make sure my children will be well educated and have clean air to breathe in a country with perfectly safe borders. So regardless of who wins the election, things will get better starting next week. They promised.”

It’s sort of amusing to see these guys on the national stage selling hope. Often during my long sales career, I spent more time than I wanted selling hope during sales forecast reviews. When the sales aren’t there – they aren’t there. But try telling that to hardheaded, pollyanna sales managers. When they can’t handle reality, it’s time to start selling hope.

Now I don’t mean to be coming down hard on hope or optimism. We know from life – and the Good Book – that trials create endurance; endurance creates character; and character creates hope. Hope does not disappoint as long as it’s placed in the right direction. I’ve got plenty of hope. I’d like to skip that trials / endurance / character building thing as much as possible in the future.

When it comes to optimism I have gained some wisdom over the last few decades. I am a “recovering obsessor.” Yes, I’ve worried about a lot of small – and big – things that just never turned out to be a problem. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve learned there really is a reason to be optimistic. That’s based on personal history.

When you look at national and world history, economists are telling us that things will be okay – eventually. The presidential candidates are certainly telling us this. I do believe this to be true.

But historical knowledge is only based on what has been observed. For many dozen centuries, people believed that only white swans existed. Then Dutch explorers, in 1697, discovered a black swan in Australia.

Based on this improbable discovery, Nassim Taleb has written a philosophy book about our exposure to rare events. There’s a fascinating PBS interview with him and the mathematician with whom he studied. This book may not be a page turner, but it does have some important implications for nonprofits.

The world grows smaller and more complex each day. Fragility, unintended consequences, and more interdependence affects us all – at work, at home, throughout the community. What are we going to do about it?

Last month I asked many questions, all related to change for your nonprofit. Of course, now I have more questions.

Are you exposed in the current economy? Are you preparing to make changes? Do you have some real plans for what’s next?

What is your strategy? Is it hope?

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