Zebras, Camels, and Cops, Oh-My

Jan 31, 2024

Readers are leaders and learners are earners, so my thirst for knowledge continues. My team just finished reading Adam Grant’s newest book, Hidden Potential:  The Science of Achieving Greater Things and it was awesome! To support the concept of being a lifelong learner, Grant states, “Prosperity rises as people become more capable of absorbing new ideas and filtering out old ones.”  As a nonprofit leader, don’t you want your organization to be more prosperous? Of course, you do!

That means you need to develop what Grant calls absorptive capacity or the ability to recognize, value, assimilate, and apply new information. Never have I seen this play out more vividly than last weekend when the circus accidentally, yes accidentally, came to town.

An isolated circus banner 607835 Vector Art at Vecteezy

If you’re not familiar with Grant County, Indiana (not named after Adam Grant although that would be so cool…can we start that rumor!?), there is stretch of I-69 that goes through our county that gets quite a lot of action. Car accidents, icy roads, traffic stops, and lots of semi-trucks hauling merchandise across America. But last weekend, I-69 was a real circus! At around 2:00 a.m. this past Saturday, a state trooper patrolling the interstate noticed a fiery blaze coming from a semi-truck and trailer. He called for back-up and raced to help evacuate the driver.

Thankfully, the driver escaped unharmed, but he quickly informed the officer of a newfound urgency--the trailer was filled with animals. Now, I live in rural Indiana. Farmers, fields, and livestock are part of nearly every day, even in the winter. So, a trailer filled with animals was not out of the ordinary, or so they thought. The officers assessed the situation, acted rapidly, and planned to evacuate the animals to a safe place where they could graze away from oncoming traffic. They then approached the smoke-filled trailer to discover that—wait for it—the trailer was filled with circus animals.

That’s right, five zebras, four camels, and one miniature horse, oh-my! I-69 was a real zoo that night! As it turns out, the Shrine Circus was in Indiana and this driver was hauling the circus animals to their next destination. I guess you never really know what’s being hauled inside those semi-trailers that we pass without much notice as we travel the highways and byways in life. I know I’ll never look at one the same way again.

I can tell you that the last thing a police officer would expect to see or hear, no matter how many years under their belt, would be a call coming across the radio expressing the urgent need to save a herd of zebras and a caravan of camels. Not in Indiana anyway. And certainly not in the middle of winter, the middle of the night, or the middle of the interstate. In case you wondered, there’s no specific training for such an emergency, although I can assume that there was great relief to learn that there were no lions, tigers, or bears on board.

May be an image of 2 people and zebra

Calls like this are why police officers need absorptive capacity. At each and every turn, officers must assimilate and apply new information. It’s a cognitive skill that helps them lay the foundation for processing data.

As nonprofit leaders, we need to do much the same thing. You may approach a task that you’ve done before the exact same way you did it last week, last month, or last year. After all, it’s always been done that way. However, as Einstein says, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. But that old way of thinking simply fuels your ego. Being proactive in seeking new knowledge, skills, and perspectives, that’s what fuels your growth.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different ...

Grant calls this the sweet spot wherein you take initiative, expand your knowledge, and adapt your plans. He says this is especially beneficial when things are difficult—things like corralling camels or raising money to support your mission. Alas, even when you desire to learn more and adapt accordingly, it’s not as easy as you might think.

Oftentimes when you ask your donors, teammates, or even your Board how you can improve on your fundraising efforts, they’ll fill your head with vague, empty compliments. People, especially Americans, simply aren’t always as honest as you need them to be. This is why we hesitate to tell someone they have spinach in their teeth—it feels awkward—even though we’d want someone to tell us! People are often polite, but not kind. Polite feedback simply makes people feel good. Kind feedback is candid and truly helps the recipient get better. Brene Brown says, “clear is kind” and that’s so on point. You can be both direct and thoughtful. As it turns out though, asking for feedback is your first mistake. Instead, Grant suggests that you ask for advice.

Spinach Stuck In Your Teeth | Ray Noah

And this point is brilliant. He says that feedback gives people a chance to tell you what you did in the past. Advice gives people a chance to tell you how you can do better in the future—now that’s helpful!

What is one marketing and communication’s strategy that you could change this year that would fuel your personal and professional growth? How can you ask for advice about those changes from those who have an affinity for what you do?

You might be accustomed to approaching each year as if the semi-trailer will be filled with livestock—that’s typical, normal, expected. But, maybe, just maybe this year you could approach it like it’s filled with zebras—this slight change in perspective could produce results that are remarkable, extraordinary, and better than you ever imagined!

Remember Grant’s quote, “Prosperity rises as people become more capable of absorbing new ideas and filtering out old ones.”  May your nonprofit live long and prosper as you incorporate new and improved ways of expanding your mission through your fundraising efforts. That sounds like the definition of sanity!


[email protected]
dawn brown creative, llc. 

P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥

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