When I was thinking about some of our nonprofit clients recently, it led me to muse yet again about Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle225px-Bundesarchiv_Bild183-R57262,_Werner_HeisenbergI mean, doesn’t everyone ponder subatomic particles when they think about nonprofits?  Or is it just me?

Anyway, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is one of the core tenets of quantum physics.  Most simply, what it tells us is that you can’t know both the precise location and the precise velocity of a particle at the same time.  You can know one; you can know the other.  But you can’t know both.  So I ask you, are you letting the principles of quantum physics get in the way of your organization?

Do you know your precise location and your precise velocity?  Too many nonprofits subscribe to the uncertainty principle and just know one or the other – they know where they are, but they’re not sure where they’re going, or else, they have a definite destination in mind, but they don’t really know where they’re starting from.

In the first case, they might monitor their activities in great detail day to day.  They may thoroughly understand who they serve, how they serve them, and what it costs them to do that.  But if they haven’t taken the time to look externally and really figure out how the world is changing and where they need/want to be in three years, they’re merely adrift on the wings of uncertainty.  They know where they are, but not where they’re going.

On the other hand, some organizations have a strong vision in mind.  Their goal is clear, they know what they want to accomplish, and they think they see a path to getting there.  But they haven’t bothered to look at where they are right now.  What is each program costing?  How does the Board assess its own performance?  Why is turnover 150%?  They’re hurtling into the future on a spaceship whose engine is fueled by uncertainty.

The good newsparticles is that quantum physics only applies (so far as we know) to the microscopic world of muons, leptons, and tauon neutrinos.  So, since you’re a bit bigger than they are, you actually can know where you are and where you’re going.  And if you want to be a strategic nonprofit, you must. Knowing both your location and velocity (i.e., assessment and vision) is the key to making sure that your nonprofit survives and thrives to fulfill its mission.

Now, as for the famous quantum physics puzzle of Schrodinger’s Cat cat2and the notion that it’s both alive and dead until you look at it, I haven’t figured out yet how to relate that paradox to nonprofits….

Maybe next week.

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