The Perils of Nice

In a recent blog, The Perils of Nice, the CEO of Social Velocity, a management consulting firm, cites a recent study that contrasts how consumers stereotype nonprofit organizations (warm, generous, caring = nice) and for-profits (more competent, but not necessarily socially aware). He concludes that “in order [for nonprofits] to innovate and work toward real solutions….they need to get meaner, uglier, messier.” In short, “enough with the nice.”

No doubt these nonprofits will need a bevy of management consultants to figure out how to “create a bold strategic plan,” “diversify revenue streams,” “take more risks” and “make an honest assessment of their core competencies, competitors and consumers” so they can figure out where they fit in and “make a market play…. The end goal is to solve problems, not get along, right?”

Well, no. Most of the major problems in the world today arise from conflicts between people, culture and systems that can’t “get along.” Social Velocity’s language and approach are straight out of the tired technocratic model of problem solving that has dominated most of the 20th century and has contributed in good measure to the cultural and economic morass we find ourselves in today: if there is a problem, there must be a solution, and we can find it by getting a bunch of really smart people together who know how to apply the most efficient tools and techniques and get the job done.

That may work for issues like designing better energy systems and affordable housing, but it doesn’t work for addressing the fundamental clash of values, beliefs and interests that plaque our world today. Those “problems” – if they are “solvable” at all – will require patience, listening, compassion and trust, not to mention compromise.

So enough already with getting meaner, uglier, messier. Let’s give warm, caring and generous a fighting chance.

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