Monday, April 20, 2009

Reclaiming Pollyanna

I have just finished reading Hildy Gottlieb’s latest book, The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing “Nonprofit Organizations” to Create the Future of Our World,” which came out a few weeks ago. In this seminal work (read about it at, Hildy asserts that community benefit organizations have the power to build a perfect world. In a conversation with me about the book (hear the podcast at she admitted subscribing to the Walt Disney philosophy – if you can dream it you can do it. For those who would call her naïve, she proudly claims the title of Pollyanna and asks others to join her and show the world what can be done when people are convinced that anything is possible.

She says that organizations have failed to make the impact they are capable of making because of a “Culture of Can’t” – the belief that it is impossible to move ahead in a manner other than the small, incremental steps that have governed the way they’ve done business since the beginning of time. But, she claims we are no longer in a position to permit this sort of foot dragging. There is too much need out there. Even her decision to refer to “community benefit organizations” speaks to the “Culture of Can” she believes will make a perfect world attainable.

If belief in such a concept makes me a Pollyanna, I am happy to stand beside Hildy and claim the title as well. As long as we think of Pollyanna in pejorative terms we will find the notion of being able to achieve heaven on earth as inconceivable and fail to take the necessary actions to reach such a state. We will continue to play games of “yes, but” and ‘that’s not my job.” We may serve a few more people or make life a little easier to live for our clients, but will we solve the mega problems that must be solved? I don’t think so.

This is not merely a game of semantics. Words count. Yes. But, it is our conviction that something is possible that has us looking at all angles, sitting down with whoever has a piece of the puzzle – even our “competitors.”

I can’t help but remember the Apollo 13 mission. With the utterance of the fateful words, “Houston, we have a problem,” the world learned that the crew might not make it home. Scientists, other astronauts, mechanics, representatives from the vendor companies that helped build Apollo and others were brought into a room with a big table. Boxes of materials – a copy of every piece of wire, every dial and every metal fitting, etc. on the orbiter – were dumped on the table with the admonishment that those assembled must find a solution in very short order. Failure was not an option. Failure is not an option for us, either. We are in this world together. We have an obligation to create and work within a “Culture of Can” to ensure that we, our children and our children’s children all truly benefit from our efforts.

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