The 10ZenMonkeys blog has the transcript of an extraordinary speech by Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland delivered at a recent conference for the Craigslist Foundation. (Found via BoingBoing.)
This passage about admitting your mistakes is worth taking to heart, particularly for those newsroom veterans who scratch their heads over posts like my last one:
Number Three, Don’t Lie. This is for real. There is something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector, the government, the foundations, and the donors that creates a massive incentive to lie — flagrantly, and often.
And it’s not just a one-sided thing. The relationship between not-for-profits and foundations is like the relationship between teenagers and parents. You don’t really want to tell them everything that’s going on, and they don’t really want to know. So there’s this dance of deceit, shall we say.
“What’d you do this weekend?”
“Oh… Studied! With my friends.”
And the parents say “Good! So glad to hear that!” Because they don’t want to know. And so what do you say?
“How did the year go?”
“We had success after success! All goals were met, and a good time was had by all.”
And what was there left to say? “Good! Good!” They don’t want to know about the youth in your program that cussed you out and set the building on fire. They don’t want to know that you hired somebody once again who was a complete idiot. They don’t want to know, and you don’t want to tell them, and therefore we all stay very ignorant. Then the actual innovation curve has flattened out, because nobody’s telling the truth about what we’re going through any more. We’re all self-deceiving and trying to make it look good.
At the Ella Baker Center, we adopted a reporting form that freaked out our board and advisors. It was very simple: highlights, low lights, and lessons learned. We created a discipline in the organization that we would report out the bad stuff. First of all, everybody knows the bad stuff anyway, because the person you fired is talking right now, so it’s not like it’s not out there. But did you learn anything?
Program officers at foundations, donors, and philanthropists are just inundated with lying, false crap. And they know they’re being lied to. If you took all your annual reports and just read them end to end, you’d have to conclude that we’re now living in a socialist paradise. Everything’s going well, people are being served, and all the children are happy. And then you look at any newspaper, and it’s very clear that we might be fudging a bit.
So my experience has been that donors and program officers love to actually get the truth. They don’t punish you for it if you learned something. I think if all of us started to confess a little bit more, we would learn a little bit faster.