The way we think about things is the reason why we can’t solve big problems. Not a reason, but the reason.
For example, in charitable work, the success of non-profits is measured in how little money they spend in overhead, limiting who they can recruit, whether they can ask more people to be involved, which means that ultimately their impact is relatively unscalable. As Dan Pallotta an activist best known for creating the multi-day charitable event industry said at TED, “The way we are thinking about charity is dead wrong”.
His talk was one of the most important talks of TED2013. (You’ll see me share the 5 talks I valued as they are released… vs a list of them now. I’ve already shared Amanda Palmer’s with thoughts and implications for the economics of generosity.)
And it points to a larger issue. In business today, there’s a great deal of binary thinking: As in, you are either a capitalist, or a do-gooder. You are either into profits and results, or into people-y stuff. You are either running your own enterprise or working in community.
While binary thinking creates an ease of classification, it has a dark side. Binary thinking creates a cultural framework that doesn’t teach us to understand nuance, or celebrate uncertainty. Or to understand how to balance competing tensions.
As I wrote in Social Era, “things we once considered opposing forces—doing right by people and delivering results, collaborating and keeping focus, having a social purpose, and making money—are really not in opposition. They never have been. But we need a more sophisticated approach to understand business models where making a profit doesn’t mean losing purpose, community, and connection. Finding the right balance between them is key. We will find that balance as we shape new constructs for business models, strategies, and leadership. What we can create will be rich in many senses of the word.”
Pallotta’s talk, when combined with Amanda Palmer’s points me to this insight: People deeply want to be in community, but they often have to be asked. Yet, if we limit how we can ask, we limit the outcomes.
How we hold an idea matters. As we ask, “How can both things be true” … we will find a new way to solve big problems.