Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: 'Mission Control: How Nonprofits and Governments Can Focus, Achieve More, and Change the World' by Liana Downey

Mission Control: How Nonprofits and Governments Can Focus, Achieve More, and Change the World
By Liana Downey

Review by Robert Morris

According to Liana Downey, this book provides a step-by-step guide to developing a strategy for public policy that will have high-impact and enduring value. She focuses on six steps: “The first step is to get the facts...Next, you will set a spine-tingling goal...Once you have your goal, you will systematically [begin italics] identify all options [end italics] available to help you reach it...Next, I show you some tricks for connecting with experts and the best research to [begin italics] identify what works [end italics]...Then you will [begin italics] look inward [end italics] to identify your distinctive strengths and capabilities as an organization...Then it will be time to bring it all together and actually [begin italics] choose [end italics] your path forward to inform your strategy...You will learn to [begin italics] tell your story [end italics] in a way that is captivating, inspiring, and easy to understand...Finally, you will build an [begin italics] action plan [end italics] so you can immediately get started on a path to achieve your goals and change the world.”

Downey devotes a separate chapter to each of these steps as she explains HOW to complete it successfully. “If you follow the simple steps in this book, you will soon be clear about your goal and how best to get there. With a focused strategy, your organization will be able to deploy your resources on the activities that matter most.”

As I worked my way through the material, I was again reminded of the fact that, in 1865, a German physicist, Rudolph Clausius (1822-1888), coined the term entropy during his research on heat. The word’s meaning: “a turning towards” (in Greek, en+tropein), “content transformative” or “transformative content.” Claudius used the concept to establish a mathematical foundation for the second law of thermodynamics: without the injection of free energy, all systems tend to move (however gradually) from order to disorder, if not to chaos.

Of course, as Downey well realizes, the so-called “simple steps” are by no means to complete, especially if many of those in the given workplace culture are captive to what Jim O’Toole has so aptly characterized as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” There is also the challenge of obtaining wide and deep buy-in of the new strategy. Finally, it is imperative to have the leadership needed to guide and inform the process en route to the ultimate destination.

In an ideal world, there is effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Alas, that is true of very few organizations, especially non-profits (that rely so heavily on volunteers) and governmental entities within which the nature and extent of their bureaucratic entropy is inevitably determined their size and complexity.

I agree with Downey about the great importance of formulating a “spine-tingling” vision. That said, it is also important to keep in mind this observation by Thomas Edison more than a century ago: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

Liana Downey provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel for leaders of non-profits, social enterprises, and government. Much of this material can also be of substantial value to leaders in other sectors. They also need to find their focus, create a powerful strategy to help them make better decisions (e.g. setting priorities and allocating resources), in order to have greater impact.

Given the recent and rapidly increasing interest in public/private partnerships to address various social issues, I am again reminded of what Peter Drucker observed decades ago: “The 'non-profit' institution neither supplies goods or services not controls. Its 'product' is neither a pair of shoes nor an effective regulation. Its product is a changed human being. The non-profit institutions are human-change agents. Their 'product' is a cured patient, a child that learns, a young man or woman grown into a self-respecting adult; a changed human life altogether.”

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Robert Morris. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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