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How harmless are idoms?


The team at BNET UK posted one of my favourite articles of 2010 so far, on this subject.  We all hear (and dare I say use) clichés and idioms every now and then and I’m sure most of us dismiss them as just that.  But how often do we think about the ramifications of some of these glib approaches in a real world context like work or volunteering?

The BNET team’s top 10 were:

  • Nothing ventured, nothing gained – that approach is exactly how the banking crisis started.
  • Where there’s a will there’s a way – of course, but you often need a lot more than just raw willpower to get things done.
  • Better late than never – unless you’ve got a deadline to hit, then it might as well be never.
  • Many hands make light work – although someone’s got to manage all that, and if there’s poor co-ordination it would probably be easier just to have a few less hands.
  • There’s no smoke without fire – but that’s not always a bad thing.
  • All good things must come to an end – that’s a bit defeatist, don’t you think? There’s no reason why a good thing can’t stay good.
  • The early bird catches the worm – whereas the smart bird knows when to get up and when to let himself have another half an hour in bed.
  • Beggars can’t be choosers – tell that to the homeless man who turned down the croissant I offered him the other day, or anyone who sells anything to customers. Everyone’s a chooser. Fact.
  • Better safe than sorry – although spending the rest of your life sorry might not be so desirable.
  • Don’t go near the water until you learn how to swim – but there’s also no way to learn swimming unless you go in the water, is there?

There is apparently more to a throw-away comment than perhaps we first thought.  Now for a moment, think about this in the context of trying to persuade a supporter to give to charity or a volunteer to campaign on your behalf.  Suddenly, there are some valuable lessons to be learned (and OK you may know them already) but…

  • Taking risks is a fact of life and many argue that charities are too conservative, particularly when it comes to innovating our way through this economic crisis.  Benefits accrue from leadership that takes calculated risk, aligned to achieving core objectives, not that takes no risks at all!
  • The growth in crowd-sourcing to generate campaign support and crowd-funding using social media is hugely valuable to many charities but it takes more than ‘the will’ to make this activity deliver to specific objectives.  The ‘way’ is to proactively create a digital storytelling strategy (tip to @ajleon) to direct your supporters actions and ensure they remain engaged with you.  It doesn’t happen by accident or by default (usually).
  • All good things don’t have to come to an end – every day charities make a positive difference to people’s lives.  We just need to think about how we communicate these positive differences more frequently, more consistently and, in my opinion, instead of doom and gloom messages all the time!
  • If everyone is a ‘chooser’ we need to provide compelling and relevant reasons for our audiences to choose us.
  • The last point about not going near water but then never learning to swim sums up social media and communications technology in general for me.  There are still charities who won’t touch Facebook, twitter, flickr etc because they are financially unproven tactics (against outdated yardsticks, I might add).  But if you don’t play, learn and yes occasionally swallow a mouthful of water, how are we ever going to acquire new and beneficial skills?  Let alone engage with an increasingly digital society.
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