“Whatever you strive for, don’t dwell on constructing the perfect plan or search for the flawless solution, because perfect can be the enemy of progress. Have the confidence to forge ahead with a good enough plan, with imperfect knowledge. Then continually adjust, adapt, and learn.” Greg Brown, Motorola Solutions, Chairman, Commencement speech at Rutgers University, May 13 2012.
The quote above was addressed to college graduates; yet, the words of wisdom have great relevance to the daily work of the grant proposal writer.
It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of proposal preparation: write, edit, refine, refine, refine, repeat (and of course the refining process calls for the approval of our ED and maybe even the board). But as writers we have to know when to submit our work with the full confidence that we wrote the best proposal for the funding source.
Deadlines offer great incentive to break the endless proposal preparation cycle. However, when the deadline is the only incentive to break the cycle we often find ourselves with a proposal we are not proud of.
I am sure Merriam-Webster can define courage several different ways. But Brown offers his own definition as he says “…perfect can be the enemy of progress. Have the confidence to forge ahead with a good enough plan, with imperfect knowledge.”
In addition to being writers, we are also writing in a sector that is filled with complex social issues with equally complex solutions. After all, if there was a clear solution for our respective issue areas, then our sector would not exist. But alas, wicked problems* (problems that are difficult to solve, track, and contain such as homeless, inadequate housing, & hunger to name a few) are part of our work. Hopefully our work ameliorates these problems.
We work in an environment where pressure of oversight, relentless deadlines, and wicked problems are all abound. Despite all of this, as proposal writers, we have to get the job done: proposals must be submitted, our EDs need to see productivity from our departments, and our clients, families or stakeholders need their needs met. Further, tight budgets constantly cry for diversification from multiple funding streams.
So, if we take Mr. Brown’s words of encouragement and fail…where do we go from there? Well let us not forget his call to “continually adjust, adapt, and learn”.
Even in the case of a refused proposal, we should not take the rejection as a loss. Instead, it is a learning opportunity where we can get feedback, develop deeper understanding of the guidelines, and perhaps develop a needed relationship that is critical to future partnerships.
Although it may feel like staying after school post-reception of an F, as writers in this field we have to constantly be willing and able to receive feedback. We fail when we stop learning.
So, let us never hesitate to take that step into the unknown.
Mr. Brown gave us words of inspiration.
It is up to us to apply these words to our work.
*A term first used by Rittel and Weber in Urban Planning. Further explained by these authors in their work on page 4 (follow link).