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Lessons for charities from knee surgery recovery

  • I want to tell you about my right knee. Have you got a minute?

    You see, I had surgery to reconstruct my Anterior Cruciate Ligament a couple of months ago and have been recovering since. Don’t worry, I won’t show you my scar, though it’s really cool. Next time, maybe.

    No, instead I want to tell you about the lessons I’ve learned while recovering, lessons that I think can be applied to charities. So, please read on.

    Balance patience and impatience

    I’ve learned that I need to be patient. Time is the greatest healer, and all that. Getting better will take a while. And yet I need to be impatient as well. I need to push it along a little, try exercises out, make it hurt a little in order to improve. And I’ve found balancing these two contradictory mindsets quite tricky.

    I’ve realised that we face this issue all the time in charities, particularly with fundraising. We need to think about long term goals while at the same time trying for ‘quick wins’ and doing the painful smaller jobs that will push us along the way. We need to have both sets of targets in our heads at the same time? Be patient and impatient.

    “Good leg to heaven. Bad leg to hell!”

    Stairs are a bit of a killer after knee surgery. As you’d expect, I suppose. But there’s a mantra that has helped me to remember the best way of tackling them. Start with your good leg if you’re going up, and start with your bad leg if you’re going down. Simple, but effective.

    But how is this applicable to charities? Well, leading with your ‘good leg’ and focusing on your strengths when things are on the up makes sense, doesn’t it? What is more counterintuitive is that when times are tough we need to focus even more on what’s not working so well. How can it be strengthened?

    Think about regression to the mean

    Sometimes, I’ve noticed that my knee pain on an afternoon, say, is greater than it was a few hours earlier. And this can be upsetting, until I remember that generally, things are a lot better than they were a week ago. In other words there are repeated blips but I need to focus on the overall trend.

    This is what is known as regression to the mean, and I think charities do not account for it enough. We tend to focus on short term blips, and think they indicate a broader trend. They don’t. Let’s ensure that our analysis has some decent longitudinal basis. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be paying attention to sudden peaks or troughs, but we need to ensure that what we infer from them is correct.

    “Don’t limp like House!”

    Hugh Laurie may have scared us all silly in The Night Manager recently, but I wanted to talk about a previous character of his, House M.D. Remember how House limped with his walking stick? When I progressed to a single crutch, my physio was quite clear in his instruction: “Don’t limp like House!” In other words, again counterintuitively, I learned to hold the crutch on my good side, rather than leaning into it on the other side.

    This was a general lesson to me, and I think for charities too. Our weaker areas grow stronger not when we lean into them or overly support them, but when we think about our function as a whole body. If a fundraising initiative isn’t working well, for example, assuming we can see potential and want it to grow, let’s consider how it fits into the work of the department and the organisation as a whole. How can we draw strength from our constituent parts?

    So there you have it. That’s what charities can learn from knee surgery recovery, all courtesy of my physio.

    Four simple… erm… steps to think about, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

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