Thursday, September 23, 2010

Will It Blend?

I'm not a big fan of YouTube videos. Normally I can't be bothered by the most-recent two-minute fad and I prefer to consume music through the vinyl medium, which leaves me little use for it. But there is one* series I couldn't stop watching once it went viral on my college campus a few years ago.

"Will It Blend?" is the brilliant marketing campaign by Blendtec that puts its blenders up against anything viewers would like: marbles, change, golf balls, cellphones, and, in an attempt to either completely reject or completely embrace consumer culture, a brand-new iPad.

These videos and their catchphrase, Will It Blend?, have resurfaced in my subconscious recently. I find myself asking that question internally whenever something new is put out into the ether to be critiqued and cut apart by the masses. I imagine the new development--be it an idea to donate shirts abroad, directing growth capital to small nonprofits or some sort of Rally to Restore Sanity--being thrown into one of Blendtec's blenders to see if it makes it through the blades, or if it ends up being no different than your everyday hockey pucks. (That one is pretty cool.) In my mind, those that make it through the blades mean something and go on to create real change, and those that don't end up being white noise that blends back into the normal fabric of society. 

I think, especially in the blogosphere, we can sometimes focus too much critique on the things that surround an idea (or an organization or an initiative), but not on the effectiveness of the idea itself. We can get caught up in a narrative rather than the substance of a movement (Tea Party, Liberals) or focus in on representatives of two camps sparring off (Jeff Sachs vs. William Easterly or, if you want something a little more humorous, Jon Stewart vs. Bill O'Reilly). Instead, we should be asking ourselves this question: Will it blend? Or will it work?

The most obvious example of effectiveness being lost through debate is the health care reform bill, which has many proposed changes going into effect today. Democrats defend it as sweeping social legislation and Republicans condemn it as ignoring middle class needs. Both of these stances reinforce political narratives and further political causes, but don't look at the efficacy of the proposed solutions behind the debate.

Developments within the nonprofit sector can be given many different labels--new, innovative, entrepreneurial. While those labels hold value, they do not answer that ultimate question. To determine if something works, we need testing, evaluation, planning and, above everything else, failure. Only through vigorous self-awareness and time can it be determined if something has made it out of the blender.

Of course, those parts of the debate that surround the issue of effectiveness still inform overall results. If a new program isn't actually new, but an old idea that didn't work the first time, it probably won't work this time. Trying to stop someone from going ahead with an objective bad idea is a good thing, like what happened in the 1 Million Shirts debacle. Someone wanted to give away t-shirts to poor countries, and aid workers who had seen this kind of program fail before put a stop to it. The debate became petty and personal, but ultimately the campaign was halted. There are limited resources in this world, so we cannot afford to have every idea or program tried and tested.

If you are thinking about doing something, whatever it is, the bottom line must always be: Will it work? Will it create meaningful, sustained change? Not: Is it new? Has it been done before? Will people like me if I do this? Those questions can inform the answer to the blender question, but they aren't the ultimate answer that can guide you.

So, if you are trying something new, always remember the sound of that blender. I hope you remain intact once it's been shut off.

*Well, actually, there's another YouTube video that I couldn't stop watching, but that's mostly due to my afore-mentioned vinyl interest.

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Venture Philanthropy Partners

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