My life as an organization

In the next month or so, I'll be contributing blog posts to the Organization Unbound site. Here's my first one!

What would it look like if my life was an organization?

This is the question I was left with last evening.

Friends from different circles had come over to talk about sustainability in the home (windowsill gardening, composting, etc.) It was a nice, lively discussion that I’d been inspired to organize for a few months now, ever since early May when my roommates and I disassembled an IKEA shelf found on the street to build a raised-bed garden and compost box in our yard. Since then, we’ve managed to dramatically cut down on our trash output while marveling at the myriads of green life sprouting from black earth. I’d never really done anything like this before and I had felt that a discussion was in order to both share my excitement in this new endeavor with others while picking up the learnings they’d be able to offer in return.

Discussing sustainability in the home feels misplaced somehow. By now, most everyone out there who’s invested in talking seriously about environmental sustainability on a world-scale knows that mr-and-mrs everybody aren’t the word’s most dire polluters. What then, is the significance of a life well led?

In Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High Impact Nonprofits, Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant identify some of America’s highest impact non-profits. These organizations are retained for the sheer impact they’ve been able to muster, usually through service provision – for ex: in building housing (Habit for Humanity) or hunger relief (Share Our Strength). Certainly, such impact is laudable. Yet, despite their impressive delivery size, these organizations seem to primarily place emphasis on providing America’s disenfranchised with fish rather than teaching them how to fish.

Unfortunately, this approach to community organizing seems to predominate… So I suppose, if my life was an organization, it would also place higher value on quantifiability.

If that was the case, then the discussion I had at my house would have been disappointing. For instance, in inviting people to come to my conversation last night, I got busy at work and I didn’t get around to inviting people until the day before so although five friends nevertheless came over, many more could have come; arguably I didn’t reach my full outreach potential. While discussing, we shared a meal derived primarily from my CSA basket which I provided for free (in addition to my labor) and since no money was raised in exchange, I could be said to have incurred a net loss in organizational output. In the end, the participants in the conversation left my house without us having identified any clear follow up actions. So overall, it could be argued that the deliverables for my life as an organization were sorely lacking.

But of course, my life is not an organization.

As such, I can consider my discussion to have been entirely satisfactory. For one thing, and despite the fact that there were comparatively few people, the small size of the group allowed me to benefit more intimately from the presence of my friends who were individually able to take more room to share their respective projects and excitement. And while I did not make any money in exchange for the food I used from my CSA basket in making supper, I derived pleasure in my friends enjoying the meal I cooked. Over dinner, we shared stories, recipes and human contact – none of which were directly part of the purpose of the space I’d convened.  After my friends left for the evening, I was left feeling energized and kept on cooking late into the evening. I spoke with my partner about the event and the next day told my co-workers about it. I decided to write this blog. None of these things were directly tied to the purpose of the space I’d created but nevertheless they emerged in my life as a result of it. My life, in all of its complexity was made richer as a result.

What would it look like if organizations were like a life?