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It reads like a scene from a movie you don’t want your children to see: Global pandemic. Racial killing in cold blood. In public. By an officer of the peace. Followed by riots. Followed by… But wait, this isn’t a movie, and there’s no one coming to save us! That’s our job, you and me. Here are my thoughts on how we start today.

What’s going on here?

Human brains are wired to search for danger: the same brains that our ancestors had back in the time of sabre tooth tigers and marauding bands bearing clubs. Unlike then, however, we are constantly bombarded by what our brains perceive as “danger” in the form of 24-hour news cycles, global connectivity, social media, always-on lifestyles and accelerating change.

This leads to chronic stress and a host of destructive reactions, including the inability to distinguish between real and imagined threats. Scary stories loom large, when we’re stressed, like monsters under the bed. Monsters that may include our boss, our co-workers or our neighbors. They may be people who hold different political or religious views than we do. They may come from cultures with which we are not familiar. In order to protect ourselves, we may draw on the ancient tradition of telling stories about them, based on little or no real understanding of how they feel or what they care about. We cast them as “other” and ultimately less than human.

Sometimes we go public with our fear, on social media, perpetuating memes of separation in the name of righteous ideology. Other times, we hide our othering, ashamed that we, who profess to love our fellow humans, would engage in such a thing. All of which causes more stress and more fear.

We must calm ourselves in order to think clearly and take action that matters.

The first thing that every one of us must do is find a way to calm the cycle of overstimulation and fear that permeates modern life today. We need to train our brains and our bodies to relax, so we can be part of the solution, not the problem.

An excellent way to do this is to adopt a regular mindfulness practice. There are many examples, including meditation, yoga, tai-chi or other martial arts, walking in nature and journaling. The key is to commit and do it every single day. Research has shown, for example, that meditation produces physiological changes in the brain related to positive cognitive and emotional outcomes, including patience, compassion, clarity of thought and the ability to remain calm under pressure.

So start now and keep going. Even better, find one or more people as accountability partners and share the journey. We are also wired to be and do things together, and this alone helps calm us by letting us know we belong.

Now comes the hard part.

Once we calm ourselves down, we can begin the real work of shining the light of our awareness on our own dark places of prejudice and fear. It’s time to get under the bed with a flashlight and take those monsters on. It’s easy to direct our justifiable rage and indignation at what happened to George Floyd, and a lot harder to own each thought we have, each action we take—however small—that perpetuates inequity, inequality, and othering.

We must start by being compassionate with ourselves and with others. Remember, we all have thoughts we’d rather not own, and we all have done things we regret. They do not make us unlovable. They are part of being human. The task is to acknowledge them and begin the process of replacing them with the way we want to be.

Here’s something you can do today.

Find someone you know who is really different from you. Maybe a different gender expression, someone from a different cultural or racial heritage. Explain that you would like to understand their perspective about something (it could be being a parent or working at your company…whatever seems most natural) and invite them to share their views. You can preface your request by saying that you’re practicing being open to the viewpoints of others.

Then, what you do is listen. Really listen. And notice the feelings and thoughts that come up; but let them go. The main thing is to refrain from judging yourself, which only perpetuates stress and fear. You might adopt a phrase to acknowledge your thoughts like “how interesting!”. The next step is to compare experiences and find places to connect around things you care about.

These are excellent practices to help address diversity and inclusion at work. In Equality: Courageous Conversations about Men, Women and Race to Spark a Diversity and Inclusion Breakthrough, author Trudy Bourgeois offers an enlightening and compassionate approach to addressing systemic inequality that we all contribute to until we build our awareness and choose a different path.

In times like these, when it can feel like we live in scary movie, we must be disciplined about doing what we can with what we have. We can all start with ourselves, wherever we are, rising to the occasion by building our awareness and shining it with courage and determination at our individual and collective dark corners. Let’s start in our workplaces, learning more about each other, about our hopes and dreams, our fears, and our struggles. Let’s rewrite the script and tell a story about people who dared greatly, to make a great future, together.

To get you started, we would like to offer you a free downloadable meditation.

As we discussed here on May 5, the consensus seems to be that there’s no “going back to normal” after the COVID19 disruption. The ways we work and live will inevitably be changed. The question is how, and what role each of us—and all of us—will play in determining what comes next.

A psychotherapist friend of mine said that she’s speaking with her clients about what she calls the “infinite potential” that exists in the limbo we’re experiencing between the past and the future. She went on to say that we can’t realize that potential unless we take action to bring something into being.

We’re at a choice point where we can wait and react to whatever comes at us, or we can be deliberate in identifying the future we want to live. We can decide what to Keep from our past and present, what to Abandon that no longer serves us, and we can identify what needs to be Invented or Reinvented to realize our vision. From there, we take action.

This sequence will look familiar to M&B friends and colleagues as the KAIR methodology we use in strategic and other planning activities. We have replaced the traditional SWOT analysis with this dynamic, appreciatively-oriented method that supports people in moving quickly to action. In these uncertain and rapidly-changing times, we need to design our way forward, try out our ideas, and adapt as we go. We have found KAIR to be an excellent tool both for planning and for checking along the way.

You may want to try KAIR with your team as you plan for your future. You can also use it to assess where you are now: how remote work has been going, for example. Any time you want to get a bead on where you are and generate ideas, KAIR is your friend.

We’ve created a worksheet to guide you through the KAIR process. You can download it here.

On April 30th, author and New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote about “weavers” and “rippers”: those who actively seek to find the ties that bind us together through good and bad times, and those who look for—and enlarge—divisions that separate us from each other and our common humanity. He cites multiple polls that show Americans from both ends of the political spectrum united in the desire to do whatever it takes to deal with the current crisis. He talks about acts of selflessness and heroism that bring tears as I type.

Brooks also points out that we Americans are more united now than we have been in the almost twenty years since 9/11. I remember back then former-NY Governor, Mario Cuomo, asking what it would take for us to be selfless, kind, and united on a regular day, not just in a life-threatening emergency; and Brooks asks that question now.

It’s a good one, and one each of us can ask as we live and work together in times that push boundaries and challenge norms. Not just because we live in the midst of COVID 19, but because we and our world are changing in formerly unimaginable ways, right before our eyes, socially, technologically, and ecologically.

“Everywhere I hear the same refrain:” writes Brooks, “We’re standing at a portal to the future: we’re not going back to how it used to be.”

But where are we going; and how are we going to get there? United as weavers, or divided as rippers? What is a future we all can get behind, and how might we all participate in actively creating that future, beginning now?

Here are some questions to share with your colleagues, partners, family, and friends to support you in thinking about creating the future now:

  1. What are the changes happening in the world (social, economic, technological, environmental) that are having a big effect on the way you live and work? Think about multiple generations in the workplace, gender preferences, virtual workplaces, social and political perspectives, climate change, etc.
  2. What effects are these changes having on you and the people around you and how is everyone responding: are you “weaving” or “ripping”, or a combination of both?
  3. What does a future look like that everyone in your organization or community would be excited about creating?
  4. What if you knew it could happen? What specific actions could you take now to find commonality and take action?
  5. What would be the positive impact on you and your organization when you have accomplished this?
  6. What will you commit to doing now, and with whom?

Opportunities & Challenges:
The Gwinnett County (GA) Public Library serves one of the fastest growing and most diverse countiesin the US with fifteen branch locations and more on the way. The Library is internationally recognized as an innovator in its field; and its leadership knows that when you’re at the top of your game is the time to up your game even further for success. The challenge was to create a strategic plan to guide the library for the next five to seven years: one that is flexible—allowing the organization to cultivate its position in and relationship to a changing community—and one that provides concrete guidance for action in the near-, middle-, and longer term.

What we did:
M&B engaged the Library in an eight-month planning process that included extensive stakeholder engagement, research and careful crafting and review of the plan. We invited staff, community leaders, strategic partners, and citizens to participate in the process, so that the whole community has its “fingerprints” on the final product. We then worked with a group of key stakeholders to examine findings and develop goals and strategies. A set of action items was developed, along with extensive project plans, to create the first round of implementation for the plan.

Deliverables:
Deliverables include the strategic plan document, detailed documentation and processes for managing implementation and documents to guide further planning efforts.

This past winter, M&B principal and Northeast Economic Development Association (NEDA) board president, Abby Straus, appeared in the annual journal of the Kettering Foundation, Connections 2018: Experiments in Organizational Innovation.

In the article entitled: “Vibrant Communities: Reinventing an Economic Development Organization,” Straus discussed the organizational transformation underway inside NEDA to maintain its relevancy to those creating vibrant communities throughout the region. Along the journey toward reinvention, Straus explained, NEDA began to ask itself:

Who has a stake in the economic wellbeing of our communities? How might we engage them, so they feel included and want to participate in the NEDA community? How might we connect members to ideas and to each other to create value that will produce revenue? How might we support local associations in their work in collaboration rather than competition?

In answering these questions, Straus said, NEDA discovered:

… that our purpose doesn’t lie in solving problems for our members, but rather in connecting them to each other and to the solutions they—and we—create together. We learned that there is an appetite for connection and co-creation and that NEDA can provide an environment in which people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives might exchange knowledge and experience in service to creating an economically vibrant Northeast.

Checkout the full article here and tell us what you think! What are some other new ideas in community and economic development that we should know about?

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

The Paterson Alliance was founded in 1998 by five nonprofit agencies in the City of Paterson, New Jersey, who came together understanding that collectively the Paterson nonprofit community needed to set an agenda that would advance the quality of life in the City. The Alliance has grown to a membership of more than 70 organizations. With budgets tightening and the needs of citizens greater than ever, it is essential to align passion, talent and capability to produce the highest and most effective outcomes for Paterson. Hence the need for a creative and inclusive strategic plan.

What We Did

M&B facilitated a strategic planning process based on collaboration between Alliance members and community leaders. The process included a series of “Community Café’s”, where participants shared their vision for Paterson and their understanding of current reality, and collectively designed a way forward. Once the plan was created, we held an event, where champions of the plan came together to prioritize action items and recommit to collaboration.

Results:

The Paterson Alliance continues to be an anchor for the nonprofit community, which is stronger than ever. The planning process helped to galvanize members for collective action and reinforce a new narrative for Paterson, one of optimism and success. Programs like the flagship “Think Pre-k” early childhood initiative, and the Paterson Full Service Community School Nonprofit Collective Impact Project are making a huge difference to the people the Alliance serves.

M&B continues to work with the Paterson Alliance to support collaboration and the development of initiatives.

Just when some pundits were announcing the demise of the public library, and politicians are trying to defund them, libraries are undergoing a major revival as centers of community re-invention.

You can call it Carnegie 2.0.

It is 88 years since the last library was built with funds from Andrew Carnegie, Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, but the spirit of helping communities thrive is alive and well across the United State of America.
Altogether, 2,509 libraries were built between 1883 and 1929, most of them in America (1,689,but others in UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and half a dozen other countries.

Cuts to library budgets seems to be a bi-partisan effort. For example, in 2010 New Jersey Governor Christie slashed funding for libraries soon after becoming governor in 2010. In the same year, Newark Mayor, now Senator Corey Booker, cut the budget of the city’s library by 20% when be first became mayor.

It is not all books anymore, although they are not going out of fashion. And googling stuff is no longer reliable, as the Internet is fast becoming a place for “alternative facts”, which are not facts at all.

Libraries are fast becoming the go-to place for:
  • Starting a new project or business, creating a new product or service, or making things
  • Building a resume and finding a job
  • Checking out community talent in the same way you check out a book or a movie
  • Acquiring skills and knowledge, packaged up in smaller chunks, just when you need it
  • Offering internships for community projects
  • Enjoying edutainment for toddlers, children, teens and adults
  • Critical community conversations
  • Meeting and socializing with others
  • Working with your tutor or mentor

The new roles for librarians are:

  • Honest brokers between a rapidly expanding number of disciplines, each with its own specialist language, ways of seeing the world, and growing distrust of other models/frameworks
  • Validators of knowledge of vital importance to communities and organizations who wish to make good decisions
  • Facilitators of crucial conversations between a diverse range of interests, particularly in community decision making and planning, policy making, and implementation
  • Curators of new and ever more diverse collections, including tools, methods, processes, systems and talents.
  • Mentors, so curation, categorizing and research become skills that everyone routinely uses.
  • Trusted partners, helping people and their organizations build the capacity for the wise application of knowledge, so they become much more than “learning organizations”.
  • Conveners for meetings, events, exhibits, safer refuge in emergencies, making and designing.
  • Community systems integrators, connecting organizations and talents in the community, and employing their skills and resources to help their people adapt successfully to change.
Here is an example of the kinds of far-sighted approach that libraries are adopting. It is two version of the strategic plan Maverick & Boutique developed for the Cozby Public Library and Community Commons in Coppell, Texas – the  Cozby Library Slide Show and the Cozby Library Strategic Plan. It is a major part of our consulting practice, currently averaging 4-5 plans a year. We use our own collaborative technology – Zing – shown in the image above to help conduct the community conversations, to achieve the “join in” necessary for the projects our clients  to develop to fact-track community-wide change.

In our work in economic development and complex project management, we often encounter failed projects and programs, that came to grief due to community opposition to the proposals, and which we are sometimes asked to  resuscitate.

One of the causes of failure is the long standing engineering practice of first designing a project and then trying to “sell” it to the community.

This is why many new critically important infrastructure projects don’t get done, and the whole community ends up paying for it in increased costs and greater inefficiencies. The extra costs are often not immediately obvious until a factory closes because it is not competitive, an environmental mishap endangers lives, or an infrastructure failure disrupts commerce.

The conventional approach to designing and selling projects has been around forever, and you will find the “achieve stakeholder buy-in” in almost every request for proposal.

Instead, we use an approach called “strategic doing” which involves key stakeholders in the process of creating projects or sub-projects connected to the main project. The projects become part of a ecosystem of synergistic/self-supporting activities.

People agree to proceed with the cluster of projects — including the main project — because they have an interest or stake in the outcome. They also get to have a say in the design.

When we approach projects this way, the opposition to projects evaporates because the projects, are designed to benefit all stakeholders, are more meaningful and relevant. Rough edges are removed that would otherwise be a sources of irritation or dissatisfaction.

We adopted this “join in” approach on a recent strategic planning project for two counties — Steuben and Chemung –along the I-86 corridor in Western New York  and their seven municipalities bookended by Corning and Elmira.

We worked with 70 or so local government, community and business leaders in two sets of highly intensive three day workshop sessions just three weeks apart, to design some 50 projects to achieve their goals of developing an “innovation corridor” and simultaneously creating a more vibrant community.

The region was successful, along with the Binghamton area (known collectively as the Southern Tier), in securing one of two $500 million investments by the State of New York, in competition with other regions across the State.

We also spent a  considerable amount of time helping our client develop a governance strategy. How do you set up a multiplicity of projects for success, each with a multiplicity of different stakeholders interests?

For a start, you need a project manager at the core that can see the big picture and is determined to get things done, to work closely with each of the project teams, just as you do with complex major projects or systems of systems engineering projects. You also need the owners of each of the community sub-projects to have both a degree of autonomy for decision making but also responsibility to the greater whole. This demand clear set of rules of engagement about how each of the project teams will  coordinate with others, including a requirement to report progress to the project manager, or to seek help when difficulties are encountered.. It’s a kind of community systems-of-systems economic and community development approach.

Naturally, we have used our knowledge of how to run complex major projects, to help our community clients successfully handle the big and the complex.

Here’s a link in the a case study in the Systems Engineering Book of Knowledge about some of our methods.

The kinds of questions we ask about governance issues include:

Resources: What human, physical, financial, knowledge, support, temperaments and other resources will you need to undertake this project, who owns or has control of them, and how could you acquire them?
Optimal outcome: What is the ideal outcome from this project? What does “success” look like?
Structure: What structure will you adopt for the project that will ensure that those responsible for carrying out the project report to all key stakeholders, rather than a select or influential few?
Ownership: Who is the ultimate owner of the project and how might you obtain their support and commitment?
Mobilizing: How can we tap into the passions of people so they not only support the project, but actively help to win support for its political acceptance and implementation?
Commitment: How will we foster a sense of ownership and or “join in” so people unite behind a decision?
Hearing and acting on concerns: How do we provide greater certainty for quietly harboring doubts? In situations where consensus is not possible, how do we ensure that all voices have been heard OR people feel heard? How will we act on concerns?
Attention to results: How can we balance the needs/outcomes for the individual, the community and the organization?
Sustainability: How will we ensure that the changes that occur as a result of implementing this project will be adopted and sustained, beyond our tenure or involvement in the process?
Accountability: How can we go about flagging unacceptable behavior and actions when it may have serious repercussions/downsides for the project or the community?
Governance Innovation: How will we know when the system we set up to govern the project is not working (is not meeting the needs of the stakeholders)? How should we plan to renegotiate the way the project is managed to ensure success?

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

Revitalize 19 cities and towns in North Central New Jersey, on the verge of re-urbanization, but saddled with home rule political processes, the buildings and the infrastructure are still in place from a time when America was first settled (the 1600s), when New Jersey factories were a powerhouse of the Industrial Era (the 1800s) and when families flocked to newly created suburbs on the borders of decaying urban centres (the mid-1900s).

What we did:

In collaboration with Camoin Associates, Maverick & Boutique facilitated a two year program to develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the North-Central Region of New Jersey via the John S. Watson Institute, a policy arm of the Thomas Edison State College that provides support for the New Jersey Urban Mayors Association.

The project was conducted in three overlapping phases – research, planning and implementation, so that teams recruited to help plan new initiates, were also being encouraged to begin the process of implementation – otherwise known as Strategic Doing.

The first stage of the project involved a study of the industry, employment, wages, and occupational base for the 19 municipalities that make up the region, a study of the business climate of the region and the municipalities including: infrastructure, labor, incentives, taxation, buildings/land and  a review of opportunities for private investment leading to job creation, especially in emerging industries, such as advanced manufacturing, “green” construction, environmental services and alternative energy.

During the second stage, M&B facilitated the work of a region-wide strategy 50-member planning committee of business, political and community leaders as well representatives from critical infrastructure and government services organizations. The committee met on a regular basis, both as a committee to develop the overall strategy, and as task forces to scope initiatives in six focus areas – training as an economic engine, infrastructure renewal, small business development, implementation assistance under a formal regional organization structure and a collective modular marketing program. As the programs develop, new people with the necessary skills, knowledge or access to resources were invited to join he effort.

In a third and overlapping stage, we helped Watson Institute staff recruit Community Implementation and Planning Teams in each of the municipalities; identify and design shovel- ready projects; and help each community develop local versions of the regional initiatives.

Deliverable:

Read the 2015 Urban-Focused Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) for the North-Central Region of NJ here!

 

 

Opportunities & Challenges:

Develop a winning plan for the I-86 Corridor to compete in New York State’s one-time competition for $500 million in economic development funding, including an ecosystem of well-developed project concepts to deal strategically with the critical issues facing the Corridor.

What we did:

M&B, in collaboration with Camoin Associates, an economic development firm, and Bergman, an engineering firm, designed and facilitated an accelerated strategic planning process for the I-86 Corridor to meet a tight eight-week deadline from start to finish to prepare for a one-off state-wide competition for large-scale investment funding. The project involved two counties, seven municipalities, and 70-80 stakeholders representing utilities, business, education, community and local government groups.

Our work resulted in the I-86 Corridor consortium and its partners in nearby Binghamton, which forms the Southern Tier, being awarded a $500 million investment from the State of New York to fund their projects.

M&B employed a combination of the Zing technology, systems maps, and project planning templates, to guide participants through the strategic planning process. The result is an ecosystem of 50 fully developed systematically interrelated projects/programs. Each project/program is described in considerable detail including action steps, strategic measures, governance, anticipated budget and funding and physical resources and talent required.

The workshops were conducted in two blocks of three days during which the participants prepared detailed project plans for infrastructure, innovation, industry development, governance, creating vibrant communities, workforce development and education, and tourism/marketing/branding.

M&B also facilitated a series of robust conversation with the steering committee to develop a corporate structure and implementation process to ensure the many participating stakeholder could work together flexibly under the auspices of an overarching governing body charged with project management oversight.

Deliverable:

View the I-86 Innovation Corridor- Strategic Action Plan, July 2015, here!