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Creating Good Work: Applied Chutzpah

Submitted by: Ron Schultz

Posted: Jun 12, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Creating Good Work: How to Build a Healthy Economy

Tags: social entrepreneurship, economics, business


Entrepreneurs of all stripes take chances. It’s part of the job description. When those chances have to do with creating good work - those efforts taken to be of benefit to others and the community - the leap across the abyss of economic uncertainty is no greater or worse. However, the consequences of failure somehow feel much worse. You’re not just letting yourself down, you’re letting down all those you had envisioned to serve.  

So, why are those of us involved in these more social efforts willing to take that leap if the downside is even greater than financial loss? The answer to that is probably as varied as the needs that compel entrepreneurs in the social sector to act in the first place. In essence, the real question is; what is the nature of compelling action? And then, what makes anyone think they can successfully initiate the relationships required to do good work?

There is a certain audacity in making the decision to work toward bringing about change for the better. It is true that doing good work does have rewards and compensation that exceed financial remuneration. But I think there is something more that drives us to enter this arena beyond a desire to simply do good.

Arguments could be made that the compelling influence for such action comes down to ego. But there is also a case to be made for real selflessness. And yet the force that compels socially-minded entrepreneurs to act, and think they can be successful at it, is something that we have inexplicably failed to define… that is until now.

I would put forth that the driving force that moves us to put these ideas forward in the first place is not something to be trifled with or ignored. It is something that arises from deep within our bowels that pushes us to act on our impulses. It whispers in our ears that “maybe we are the ones who will finally liberate suffering” and then it makes us think we really can.

For lack of a better term, I call this dynamic force, Applied Chutzpah.

For those schooled in the finer delicacies of the Yiddish language, the way I am using the word chutzpah, or more correctly khutspe, might cause some affront. As pointed out in the book, Born to Kvetch, by Michael Wex (Harper Perennial, 2006) this word has come to mean a “laudable audacity or apparent effrontery that actually conceals a brave and often new approach to a subject or endeavor.” Given what those compelled to do good work aspire to, I think this an apt description. But Wex goes on to explain that khutspe is actually something “both stupid and mannerless, lacking in class and unpleasant.” He offers an example of this definition; describing a man propositioning a woman at her husband’s funeral. That does take chutzpah!

Interestingly, whichever definition you ultimately choose, the point I wish to make holds true. This action I refer to as applied chutzpah invariably leads to a new and emergent opportunity. Chutzpah, in either definitional case, implies an interaction of some sort - out of which a new way of thinking emerges – either an elevated conceptual possibility or utter amazement at the depth of human debasement. This new way of thinking invariably promotes taking action – launching a unique civic model for social benefit in one case or a well-deserved slap across the face in the other.

The case for applied chutzpah is worth considering.  The important factor is that by audaciously engaging in a compelling action specifically designed for doing good, what emerges is a new way of thinking that invariably initiates good action. Think of Karen Tse, who decided that police departments all over the world needed to stop torturing arrestees. She started International Bridges to Justice and has now arrested torture in nearly 40 countries. Or Bart Weetjens who realized he could train rats to sniff out landmines. His organization, Apopo, now frees thousands and thousands of people from the deadly act of walking from here to there.

Without any evidence other than anecdote to support my contention, the actions precipitated by this laudably audacious definition of applied chutzpah, make things better.

If I were wiser I would stop here. But alas, I am not. Creating good work demands continued applications of this chutzpahtic approach. Taking these audacious leaps may produce moments my colleague and friend Steve Farber (Radical Leap, Greater than Yourself) refers to as OS!Ms (Oh Shit! Moments). These are times when we find ourselves with nothing below and nothing above to grasp onto but our awareness that something new and unexpected is about to happen. The hope is that our eventual landing place will somehow radically change our thinking so that we can initiate real and positive change.

It is my firm belief that this application of chutzpah is what it takes to change ourselves, our enterprises, and ultimately change our world. Taking this leap is a willingness to create a new way of thinking about how we make change happen. And while there are currently no enrollment applications being taken at any universities for courses in applied chutzpah, it would be safe to say that there folks out there who are already masters of it. They think they can change the world and make it a better place and they are doing it.

So, who knows, with a little applied chutzpah, a new model might be lurking out there, ready to emerge from you. It might be something that could truly make a difference in the suffering we see around the world. 

How much chutzpah do you think it would take? How much ya’ got?

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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