Unconventionally Wise

Conventional wisdom is an interesting concept – many times, we have convention, but we are far from wisdom.  Here are some examples:

  • Conventional wisdom says that smaller K-12 class sizes enhance student outcomes and test scores.  Everyone knows this to be true, right?  So, we have spent billions of dollars in an effort to keep class sizes smaller.  The problem, of course, is that the best research conducted on this issue since the late 1970s provides us with less than a clarifying answer.  At best, it appears that smaller classes may help with specific student populations, but there are little to no indications that smaller classes help universally.
  • Convention wisdom says to lose weight and to have a more healthy heart you should consume less saturated fats.  The conventional wisdom is simple enough:  Saturated fat on the dinner table = fat on our bodies.  However, for the last 30 years and based on government advisories, the American public has dutifully reduced the amount of saturated fat intake only to see the obesity rate double, the rate of diabetes triple, and heart disease remain as the number one killer.  There appears to be another culprit:  refined carbohydrates.

In every advancement shop, there are pockets (if not deep wells) of conventional wisdom.  Perhaps it’s an event, or the philosophy of integration among direct mail, e-philanthropy, and phone solicitations, or the way in which staff meetings are conducted.

Whatever it might be, every shop has assumed notions of how things should work.  The problem is not that we hold these notions, but, rather, that we assume they are the wisest courses of action.  Our notions of “the wise (or effective) way,” become our conventions.  Regardless of how “wise” these notions really are.

And many times, convention turns out to be very unwise.  Convention trumps wisdom.  It’s easier to go with the flow and follow convention than to think creatively.  Therefore, advancement shops can very quickly begin acting in conventionally unwise ways.

So every now and then, you should pause, push back on the convention, and focus again on what is wise and effective.   What you might find is that in order to be more effective, you need to become unconventionally wise.


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