More than just a pithy phrase

If you’ve heard me speak or have read much of what I’ve written, you know I’m a sucker for a pithy phrase. In previous posts, I’ve highlighted longtime favorites from my consulting lexicon. Now I’m pleased to introduce two additions to my collection of clever plays on words.  

The first is “sloppy agape.” I stumbled upon the phrase in a Christian Century article where it’s used to describe

a situation in which love and good intentions are disordered, leading to a lack of clarity or accountability. We know an organization has fallen victim to sloppy agape when, in the name of concern and compassion, everyone makes everything his or her business. Decisions made by one authorized group are unmade by another unauthorized group because “We don’t do things that way here” or “This would hurt so-and-so’s feelings.”

(It occurs to me that sloppy agape is a companion descriptor to “dysfunctional civility” – a phrase I frequently use in my work with boards to describe less than helpful boardroom conversations.)

The second of the phrases new to my professional vocabulary is “compost grant making.” I spotted this one in Beth Kanter’s blog report from the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s conference “Better Philanthropy: From Data to Impact.” The phrase refers to grant funded projects that were ahead of their time and more experimental – projects that didn’t quite work out perfectly but which later became a rich source of learning that helped organizational leaders avoid replicating mistakes.

Swap out “initiative” for “grant making” and the phrase fits any and all nonprofits that have seen a hot idea crash and burn. We are told that the only real failure in life is the failure to learn. Yet organizations (and people) that systematically and effectively learn from failure are rare.

And that brings me back to “sloppy agape” and the inclination to sweep less than ideal outcomes under the organizational carpet for fear of bruising an ego or two. How much more blessed is the organization where leadership – the board, CEO, and other senior administrators – recognizes the rich nutritional value of composted initiatives.  Let the idea recycling begin.

What's your take on this topic?

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