‘Tears to my eyes, joy to my heart’


Leap of Reason Update: August 2014

In response to the dark story we featured in our July update, our dear friend Lou Salza encouraged us to read an inspiring one that “brought tears to [his] eyes and joy to [his] heart”: The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, about the University of Washington crew team’s unlikely victory at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. “What a fantastic read about leadership, data, performance, and teamwork,” he said.

Lou’s recommendation was gold.

The Boys in the Boat is a gripping narrative that gives human form to all the core concepts in business bibles like Good to Great. The UW team’s success in 1936 begins years earlier with the team’s coach, Al Ulbrickson, making agonizingly tough decisions to get the right people in the boat, in the right seats. As we get to know those boys and their stories, we internalize their drive for excellence—and we gain deep admiration for the motivation, passion, pain, discipline, talent, resiliency, and team commitment that it takes for them to achieve their Olympic dreams.

Among the book’s many wonderful passages, we loved the author’s description of “swing,” the nirvana of rowing:

There is a thing that sometimes happens in rowing that is hard to achieve and hard to define. Many crews, even winning crews, never really find it. It’s called “swing.” It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others…. Only then does pain entirely give way to exultation…. Poetry, that’s what a good swing feels like.

So if you have some time next week before the crush of fall begins, pick up a copy of the book. And if you enjoy it as much as we did, share it. Perhaps it will help your team find its swing and achieve impossible goals.

And now we turn to updates from around the Leap of Reason community:

  • We commend Paul Carttar‘s latest blog post, “In Praise of Operations: Making ‘What Works’ Actually Work.” Paul eloquently argues that the nuts and bolts of delivering quality services get lost because of our fascination with fancy bells and whistles. “Disciplined management, rigorous analysis of performance data, accounting for true costs, relentless efforts to improve processes and programs, the hiring and development of great people—these are essential to ensuring that what is promised in theory is realized in practice but simply don’t seem to get due attention or respect.” We can’t underscore enough this important message. Far too few people in philanthropy have had the opportunity to see what effective management is and thus are hindered in their ability to advocate for investing in the management capacity of their grantees. It’s analogous to folks coming into investment banking or venture capital without executive experience. These investors often give lip service to strong management, but they don’t have a sense of its preeminent role and how to cultivate it.
  • Our kudos to Susan Dreyfus and The Alliance for Children and Families for their brief but powerful guidance for member agencies: “The Commitments of High-Impact Nonprofits: A blueprint for achieving meaningful, lasting results in human-service organizations.” The document is not just a well-written statement of aspirations. The Alliance will be using this blueprint in a very concrete way to help members improve their performance. “The Alliance will provide organizations with tools to assess and benchmark their current levels of competency in each of the Commitments, and it will organize all membership offerings around helping organizations elevate their proficiency in the specific areas.”
  • We were pleased to see this legislative news from Michele Jolin and her team at Results for America (RFA): “U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the bipartisan Pay-for-Performance Act (S. 2691), which would help make the federal government more effective and efficient while improving outcomes for young people, their families, and communities. Like the bipartisan Social Impact Bond Act (H.R. 4885) recently introduced by U.S. Reps. Todd Young (R-IN) and John Delaney (D-MD), the Bennet-Hatch bill will help drive federal taxpayer dollars toward evidence-based, results-driven solutions.” We’re hopeful that the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on the Social Impact Bond bill in the fall.
  • Speaking of RFA, we noted that their “Moneyball for Government” meme got nice play in the blog post “A flourishing performance management landscape,” by Urban Institute’s Mary Winkler. She highlights new resources and initiatives that are, in her words, “indicative of growing attention and a sense of urgency around issues of measurement and evaluation for the nonprofit, government, and philanthropic sectors.”
  • And speaking of Urban Institute, Mary’s colleague Elizabeth Boris, the director of Urban’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy, was one of the 70 sector leaders who authored the “Lake Washington Declaration” to galvanize and align efforts to build the information infrastructure of the social sector. The declaration is just one step in a long journey that has already had many stops and starts. But we think the document points in the right direction.
  • Last year we had the pleasure of visiting the Mountain View, CA, headquarters of the Khan Academy, which had inspired ideas Mario shared at the White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation. In a sign of Khan Academy’s maturity and significance, the Department of Education recently commissioned the respected R&D firm WestEd to conduct a randomized controlled trial on Khan’s math materials. The trial will focus on community college students in California using Khan Academy materials while taking Algebra I courses.

Events/Webinars for Raising Performance:

Mario and Lowell

Mario Morino is Chairman of the Morino Institute, Co-Founder and Founding Chair of Venture Philanthropy Partners, and author of the lead essay in Leap of Reason. Lowell Weiss is president of Cascade Philanthropy Advisors, co-editor of Leap of Reason, and advisor to the Leap of Reason initiative.

Download complimentary copies of Leap of Reason and Working Hard—and Working Well. Check out our suite of materials and video gallery for strategic planning sessions, performance-management projects, professional development, board meetings, or graduate/undergrad classes. And encourage colleagues and stakeholders to sign up for monthly updates to help power their leap.