The Second Law

The second law of thermodynamics tells us that systems reach a steady state at some point.  It is something leaders want but should never pursue or accept.  As your organization approaches a consistent level of operation, it becomes more and more comfortable and pleased with how things are working.  While it feels good, it is a bad thing.

The world around us is far from predictable.  It is constantly changing.  If leaders seek to embrace the steady, comfortable, and predictable rather than embracing chaos and change, their decisions will reduce their organization’s relevance and sustainability. The decline is slow at first and often goes on unnoticed.  As the rate of decline increases, the cuts are deeper and more painful.  At some point, the momentum of the decline becomes unstoppable.

The solution is simple to state, “Lead the change process and be the one creating chaos in the market.”  Since none of us want more chaos, it is easy to feel like creating chaos for others is the wrong thing to do.  Whether that is true depends on where one believes their primary loyalty and responsibility lies.

If your primary responsibility is to your donors (those who pay the bills), your clients (those who depend on you), and your community (which wants a better life for all of its citizens), leading change and creating chaos is what everyone expects of your nonprofit.  All of those constituents want the world to be a better place next year.  They will accept incrementally better but they would prefer dramatically better.

Incrementally better will blunt or eliminate criticism.  Dramatically better will win praise, increase support, raise the success level of your clients, change your community, increase the generosity of your donors, and raise your nonprofit’s sustainability.

It is hard for most of us to look at something that we have been doing for years and see how it can be dramatically different.  This is proven frequently by an upstart who displaces the old established organizations.  The new entrant often seems to know very little about how things were done in the past.  Their only strength is that they have a vision for how things could be different in the future.

If a nonprofit’s leaders (board and senior staff) have been in their position for years and are comfortable with how things are going, it is hard for them to see how things could be dramatically different.  They are inclined to think about making things better by increasing efficiency, looking for new ways to do old things, and adopting what other nonprofits are doing.  They are also tempted to keep things the same as much as possible.

If you want different results, you must do things differently.  That often means engaging different people.  Recruit board members who may know nothing about your nonprofit, its operations, or clients but have a passion for solving the problem your mission statement promises to solve.  Give their ideas a try even though history says the idea will fail.  Tell them why it is likely to fail and ask them how they intend to overcome that hurdle.  Do the same thing when hiring new staff members.

Hiring the outsider is expensive because outsiders need more training and support than the insiders would.  However, it is easier to train someone than it is to teach people to generate fresh ideas that create an evolutionary step forward.

Next Step:

Be the leader of an organization known for creating change and leading the evolution of your community

Surround yourself with people who see the world significantly differently than you do

Give ideas the opportunity to fail rather than rejecting them because they failed in the past

Our distant ancestors dreamed of flying.  They never gave up on it.  Then a little over 100 years ago the first flight took place.  It is hard to imagine that two bicycle mechanics could solve a centuries-old problem.

Your clients and community need to have problems solved in days rather than years.  Your mission has promised a solution to one or more of those problems for several years.  The only thing holding your nonprofit back from having that great breakthrough solution is a fresh idea that is given the space to prove itself.

You are a leader who has the potential to change the lives of your clients and your community in significant ways.  All you need is to surround yourself with idea generators and to nurture ideas.

Take It Further:

Allocate 5% of your budget each year to experimenting with new ideas or old ideas tried in a new way

Create a culture that embraces risk, takes on big challenges, and wants to have a big impact on your community

Set an annual goal of creating a change that makes your clients’ lives significantly better than the previous year


Comments are closed.