Business Insider

On being magnanimous: A new route to creativity?

What happens when an organization that has long struggled to have enough money for regular operations — say, a nonprofit — finally reaches a stage where donations and revenue-generating activities thrive?

Instead of constantly saying “no” to employees’ requests for funding to try a new program, the director can say “yes.”

One such director says this situation has allowed him to have a “magnanimous mindset.”

A Treasure Valley nonprofit hired this director several years ago. His task was ominous: to bring the organization back into the black financially, to find ways to increase its visibility both locally and nationally, and to raise the caliber and quality of its offerings. The director reckoned he would need five to seven years to reach those goals. So he was delighted when the organization achieved them all in a much shorter timeframe.

The organization now has enough money to operate without fear of insolvency, it has been consistently rated as one of the best of its kind in the U.S., and the product quality has skyrocketed. He asked that he and his organization not be named, because the nonprofit still needs donations and he doesn’t want donors to stop because because its finances have improved.

While the improvements have eased the apprehensions of both director and staff, the director began to notice something else: He and the others discovered they could be more creative.

Many people say innovation and creativity come from “necessity” or “being hungry.” True, in some ways. If you need to solve a serious problem and are forced by resources or timeline, many groups are very able to step up. Think of the rescue of the Apollo 13 astronauts.

But if we are always starving, desperate to stay alive — as a person or an organization — could that also have dampening effect, leading to solving just immediate problems, rather than having any chance for finding new opportunities?

By having more resources, the director found he could say “yes” to creative new ideas that employees have. He and they could pursue opportunities for even more exciting projects than they had imagined.

Every request or opportunity still needs to support the mission of the organization, of course, but now employees can dream a bit. By having a few extra resources, the director can “be magnanimous” and ultimately even more creative.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University; This column appears in the Dec. 21, 2016-Jan. 17, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).