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A Case For Writing Things Down

OK this is an “idea” post. Comment, disagree, whatever. Participate!

There’s a guy named L.E. Modesitt, Jr. (I don’t think we should hold that against him, though I do wonder why you’d choose to be a published author who goes by his initials–“What do I call you, Le ?”) I’ve read exactly two books of his, and they were both recommended to me by a friend who I think has Big Brain. This one is called Adiamante…I think that’s Spanish for diamond…and in it, Modesitt does the shocking thing of writing down his rules about how society can actually work. The whole novel is in fact a psychological suspense story that rests on the fulcrum of a moral dilemma (yes, I’m using the word dilemma in its correct meaning): when should we apply force to ensure our way of life continues? Early on, or later?

I highly recommend Adiamante, not for the prose but for the clarity of ideas. Modesitt has lain down two documents, the first being The Paradigms of Power (about morality and mutual respect in society), and the second being The Construct (about when force ought to be used, juxtaposed with retaining one’s own sense of moral right in a dog-eat-dog universe). Pretty much it’s an argument for holding off on delivering violence until the last possible moment, giving the other guy the chance to come to his senses and survive too. Of course, you have to have a big–though assuredly hidden–stick. These aren’t fictional ideas. They’re excellent and I see ways to implement them in everyday life.


In contrast, there’s a guy named Donald Kagan who compiled a tome called On The Origins of War And The Preservation Of Peace. Seriously, the second part of the title is way smaller. Anyway, one of the recurring messages in his review of the Romans responding to Carthage’s aggression between the two Punic Wars, and the European powers in the mid-1930s reacting to NAZI military buildup of Germany, is this:
If smackdown was delivered earlier, a whole lot of trouble and loss of life could have been avoided.


So tell me, gentle reader, which is it for you? Why? Should force be the first or the last thing we should apply when confronted by our “enemies”? In any case, both these authors make an excellent case for writing things down, so we can think about them for ourselves–rather than have the answer dictated to us.


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Quantify, Quantify, Quantify

Six years of grant applications for municipal funding of non-profit society programs crossed my desk from 2003 to 2008. Half the time somebody else would drop the ball and as chairman I’d have a last-minute assignment to complete their assessments, too. As a business administration and operations management grad, the financial and functional sections were no big deal. But here was the kicker:

  • no matter how much I liked the organization
  • no matter how good I felt the program they were offering might be
  • no matter how much they insisted their program was unique and helped people

I was held to a strict criteria of evaluation in order to determine whether funding ought to be recommended or not.

One of the major “quick checks” I had to go by was this…How many residents of the municipality were served by the program? Exactly how many?

You can do a lot of thinking about numbers like this. Such as–is $1000 that helps 100 people deal with having a stroke, or $10 per person helped, better than $8,000 to help 8 blind people have seeing-eye dogs?

But the sad truth is, I rarely arrived at this kind of question (I had written ‘dilemma’, but that’s a choice between two equally undesirable alternatives…). The fact of the matter is that the large majority of organizations seeking municipal grant support were unable to clearly or believably quantify how many people in that municipality that they actually helped with their program.

If you’re writing a proposal or a grant application, don’t go on and on with warm and fuzzies about how great you are and that you “know” you are or are going to help people. Quantify. Tell the reader, at least as an estimate, how many people you’re going to help or how much money you’re going to save or how many hours you will shave off a process. Quantify. Yes, you’re going to have to build in a feedback loop into the delivery of your program. But you should have that anyway–not just float from year to year, executive director to executive director, sometimes paying more attention and sometimes not. Quantify. You’ll see your successes grow.

If you’re having trouble quantifying how your proposal will be deemed as a success, and want to get the attention of The Powers That Be, drop me a line.