IT & Technology

The technology of foolishness

22 October 2008

The PASC report has highlighted an uncomfortable truth; that one size does not fit all when it comes to commissioning public services and that there is much more to be done on ‘intelligent commissioning’ for the third sector to deliver the unique value it is capable of.

The requirements of accountability and transparency to sustain public confidence (see Quality Standards), while necessary, take their toll on management resources and one has to wonder for how long charities will retain their individuality.

In mature markets, the private sector looks to strategic innovation to sustain competitive advantage. Supply chain changes, new customer groups and product developments have been typical responses. Charities have been adopting similar approaches to get ahead and make that positive difference to the cause they work for. For example, Andrew McCulloch developed the research competency of the Mental Health Foundation because ‘we want to be an evidence-based organisation’ (see Andrew McCulloch's interview). Transplants in Mind took the opportunity of using the recent National Transplant Week to metamorphose into the Transplant Trust and to launch their new social networking site. It is important that this kind of innovation does not dry up in a tougher economic and regulatory climate.

Over 30 years ago, J G March made the point in his essay, The Technology of Foolishness, that the temporary relaxation of rules in order to explore the possibilities of alternative rules can ‘lead to more interesting value premises for the organisation’. He explains: ‘There is little magic in the world, and foolishness in people and organisations is one of the many things that fail to produce miracles. Under certain conditions, it is one of several ways in which some of the problems of current theories of intelligence can be overcome… If we had a good technology of foolishness, it might (in combination with the technology of reason) help in a small way to develop the unusual combination of attitudes and behaviours that describe the interesting people, interesting organizations and interesting societies of the world.’

During the closing plenary of the Institute of Fundraising National Convention, Alan Clayton, chief executive of marketing agency Cascaid, suggested that management culture needed to shift because ‘big change is needed fast’ and that immediate ROI requirements from senior management and governing boards were holding back fundraising innovation. While checks and balances do need to be in place to land and perform on a key contract and to serve a charity’s beneficiaries, it would be a pity if the sector’s latest round of deliverables extinguished the spark of creativity that has long been part of the sector’s DNA.

Share this article
Clarissa Dann

Clarissa Dann was the editor of Caritas as well as an HR and management online service,he People Bulletin until July 2011.

She is now the editor of the specialist trade finance magazine, Trade and Forfaiting Review which can be viewed at but does write on charity finance and investment from time to time.

Clarissa has a background in legal and professional publishing, as well as business journalism and holds an MBA from Cass Business School. She has been one of the judges for the non-profit category of the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Excellence in Marketing Awards for the second year running.

She has also acted as clerk to the trustees of a small almshouses charity and as a member nominated trustee to a pension scheme of a multinational publishing company.


Read more articles by this author


Leave a comment

Your Name:
Your Organisation:
Job Title:
Email Address:
Your comment:

Unless you state otherwise, we will publish your comment on the website
Don't publish my comment

Type the letters you see in this picture to verify that a person is creating this email and not an automated program.

The letters are all lowercase