Management Lessons From the Road

Déjà vu All Over Again

Tropes are simply defined by Wikipedia as “a commonly recurring literary or rhetorical device, motif or cliché.” In movies, there are a finite number of tropes, themes and plots. Here are a few paraphrased examples:

• Always Save the Girl: The hero saves the heroine no matter what massive disaster needs tending.
• Aloof Ally: The loner doesn’t want to get involved, but joins the cause at some point—sometimes saving the day.
• Got Volunteers: A character is forced into a dangerous mission.

Other genres have their own sets of tropes. Romance novels are filled with them, such as I Hate You/I Love You or Damsel in Distress. Even entertainment wrestling repeats themes. My favorites are Getting Even, Can’t Make It to the Ropes and It’s My Fight Now.

Nonprofits have our tropes, too. But our audience (boards, donors, regulators and funders) often seems tired of hearing the same stories: Increased Need, Decreased Resources. We Helped THIS One. Overhead Blues. Unfunded Mandate Mania.

Bage julyWhy does our repetition of these themes cause so much irritation while we watch movie after movie or read book after book with the same overused themes? I have a few ideas.

We’re Bored Too
You can bet when an author writes that book of his/her heart, she is excited about it even if it’s the 10 millionth book on the shelves about the heir apparent who doesn’t want to rule. Yet when we talk about the increased need/decreased resources, we’re drained. Or worse, we are angry. When we have the opportunity to speak, whether about our work or our needs, rev it up! Show your passion for your mission and for your clients.

It’s Just Not That Interesting
We must get better at telling our stories and the stories of our clients. Leave out the jargon. Make the tale its own, relatable human trope and then make it resonate.

It’s All About You
Relationships don’t work well when there is too much focus on one party. When we read a book or watch a movie, there is no doubt that we receive something for our money and our effort—entertainment. That’s not to say we should be performers. But even our staunchest supporters want to know we care about THEM and that they have a stake in our work.

Old tropes are made fresh in movies, television and books with innovative perspectives and creativity. Our ability to engage our constituents in important conversations is dependent in part on our ability to deliver on both as well.


Submitted by Robyn-Jay Bage

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