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March 2, 1990

The Three Competencies of Generosity

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Generosity flourishes when an organization does good, stays viable, and remains true to its mission.

I’m not an airplane pilot myself, but I know a few pilots and have learned a few things about flight dynamics over the years. When you’re piloting an aircraft in flight, you’ve got to have control over the roll, pitch, and yaw motions of the craft if you want to stay properly oriented. Lose control of your plane on any of the three axes, and you’re going to send it out of equilibrium … and possibly straight to disaster.
Often it takes a few things held in tension to achieve the greatest success. Another example is in the world of design. Design experts have used a triad of desirability, feasibility, and viability to guide best outcome for over forty years. It is the nexus of those three where the best design sits, held in tension among the three. Or just the other day I read that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was making the case that the formula for success for the NFL was balancing profitability, popularity, and safety. Those three must always be held in tension to achieve the greatest outcome.
Well, I have another triad to suggest. Generosity is grounded on three inter- connected competencies:
1. Do good—have a positive impact in one or more areas of social well-being.
2. Stay viable—bring in enough profits, donations, or other revenue to operate with year in and year out.
3. Remain true—know and stick closely to your mission.

Succeeding in any one of these three competencies is easy enough. Keeping on track with two of them simultaneously is harder, though most organizations manage it. But doing good and staying viable and remaining true over the long term—now, that’s a tough piloting assignment for any organizational leader! But that’s where real success is to be found in the generosity economy.
In fact, your organization must have stability in all three dimensions if you don’t want it to crash and burn.
What do you find if an organization is failing in any one of the three competencies? A company intent on scooping up profits without regard to its impact on the community. Or a world-changing intention that disappears before it makes any difference. Or a good-hearted group of people who are drifting because they have no rudder to guide them.
Let me tell you about one company that’s doing generosity right in all three dimensions of competency.

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