Softening the “iron rule”

I recently posted about Saul Alinsky’s Iron Rule of Organizing, “Never do for others what they can do for themselves.

For that to work, you have to realistically know what people can and cannot do for themselves.

I was recently working with a group that is very good at coming up with ideas of things that could/should happen. Some of their members are also good at carrying out a work plan.

So, by the iron rule of organizing, I shouldn’t come up with ideas for them or carry out their work plan.

But what they cannot do for themselves is to come up with a workplan for one of their ideas. There is a gap there, and that gap has left them feeling stuck.

We’re still working out how to address it. I think the short-term answer is to develop a proposed work plan for them. The longer-term answer may well be to work with them to recruit people who can develop a work plan.

When you try to apply organizing theory in real life, you realize that real life is messy. You can’t say, “the group always has to come up with a work plan,” or, “the volunteers always have to design the posters.”

This messiness of life softens the iron rule of organizing.

Never do for others what they can do for themselves, but find a way to get done what people cannot do for themselves.

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