Monday, March 12, 2007


Thinking Clearly
by pam ashlund

Remember Hobbes describing life as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short"? Well how about this quote from the critical thinking website:

"much of our biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced." Critical Thinking Website

I'm thinking about nonprofit effectiveness today (again). Why is it one of my favorite topics? Because...IF WE AREN'T EFFECTIVE WHY ARE WE BOTHERING???? It seems even Bill Gates Senior is asking this question. I have to paraphrase him here (from a talk at a small gathering). The essence of his statement was this: Historically most efforts to cure social problems had little or no effect or (this is the frightening part) only made them worse.

What a disturbing claim; even more so because of how it resonates.

In a February post I wrote about the counterintuitive nature of social problems. That article (more than many) has influenced (haunted?) my thinking ever since. After reading that article (way back in the 80's!) I've looked at "our work" askance. For example, when someone tells me about how their services help the community, I ask myself "but how do you know?"; "what was your research methodology?"; "what was the size of the group?" Even more so, yes it sounds logically like it will work, but why do you think that "you think so" has anything to do with what the actual outcome will be??

Here's where our psychology comes into play. How open are you to an idea that you initially don't agree with? Can you even pause and ponder it? Most of us can not. Hear the opposing view and the door closes.

Years ago in the early days of computer micro-processing, a wise professor (Barry Godolphin) introduced a discussion on programming thusly: "if the computer doesn't give you the right results it is always right and you are always wrong". There was something profound there akin to Ronnie Reagan's quip "Trust, but verify". In fact, the advice, which is that we are so darn vulnerable to bias, that we ought discard our opinions and revisit the data...was a pivotal point in my higher education.

Now, if we can only get there in nonprofit micro-processing!

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