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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?

 

This post, originally from January 2013, highlights one of the key frameworks in the M&B toolbox.  We use the features of complex adaptive systems to create tools, methods, and frameworks that allow us to be more agile and realize greater results than we ever thought possible.  We leverage these assets and resources to create a new and more desirable future for our clients and partners. 

The metaphor of the machine or clockwork universe continues to dominate the way we think and talk about the world.

This unusually persistent meme can be traced to Isaac Newton and Copernicus, who understood the universe in terms of elegant, linear, predictable relationships. Behavior in this world is easy to predict, and therefore easy to control.

The theory is that one can understand anything – from the human body to the universe – by dissecting it and completely describing each part. And some things work this way, like your car engine or your computer.

However, we now know that many aspects of our world defy this kind of analysis, that the universe is a system of many systems that operate by a completely different set of rules. The weather, markets, communities, organizations, ecologies of organisms and our own brains, are systems that cannot be reduced to the sum of their parts.

They are complex adaptive systems that learn as they develop. And although the parts interact in unpredictable ways, they develop rich patterns of complex order through a process of feedback that further influences their development. Over time, these systems become more complex, more coherent and more organized.

Here are some components of complex adaptive systems:

Self-organization: Complex adaptive systems are not planned by a central controller. It is the activity of agents in the system, acting individually and collectively that leads to emergent order. Like birds flocking and fish shoaling according to simple rules of interaction

Systems within systems: Within each complex adaptive system are other smaller systems that interact with each other. Some of the most complex systems humans have created, such as the stock market, food production and distribution, transport systems and the Internet interact with humans in an evolving symbiotic relationship.

Emergence: There is no command, control, planning or managing. It is the activity of all of the parts of the system which influences the activity of the other parts of the system.

Feedback loops: Through feedback, connections grow in a system, which gathers momentum, and patterns start to form, leading to the development of more complex patterns.

Simple rules: A few simple rules of interaction lead to complex outcomes. For example, a shift in the way we speak to each other – from “you must!” to “what if we?” – builds trust and accelerates communication that leads to highly synchronized teamwork.

Period doubling cascade: Complex adaptive systems periodically undergo “phase transitions” to a higher level of organization, in what is known as a “period doubling cascade”. For example, the stages of development of the human brain, the magical moment when a group becomes a high performing team and the big social and technological shifts that occur when humans invent smarter tools, such as the shift from the typewriter to the computer.

Coevolution: When the environment changes, individual parts of the environment adapt to the new conditions created by the interaction of all of the parts.

Dynamic stability: Complex adaptive systems live dynamically on the edge of chaos, where new possibilities emerge from the variety and creativity of the system. These give it life and sustain it.

This is a very different world to the clockwork or networked universe with which we are familiar, one that is much more dynamic, less predictable–and, ultimately more malleable–than the one that has shaped so many of our institutions and organizations.

Control is….an emergent property, not an option to be selected. – Dr. David S. Alberts, US Defense

 

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!

 

 

 

Two hugely influential leaders in economic affairs, on opposite sides of the planet seem to be lacking a good model of the system to help us navigate more successfully to a brighter fiscal future.

Nobel prize-winning economist, Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, was honest enough to say he did not have a good model of the macro economic changes that were occurring the world as a result of technological change, and doubted if anyone else did.

Down Under, in Australia, a country that has successfully weathered the global financial crisis better than most, the Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey, is presiding over an economy heading south at a great rate of knots due primarily to some major fumbles on his part.

Hockey is responsible for setting economic policy directions for the country. This week he proclaimed in Parliament that the opportunity for Australia is in services – health services, tourism services, accounting services and property services – at the very point in time that the McKinsey Global Institute is warning that the automation of knowledge work (all services) is one of the Big 12 disruptive technologies, that are helping to drive the way our world works.

As any systems thinker will tell you, the most effective way to get the best out of a system is to be able to navigate from one good model of the system, to an even better model, as the system undergoes transformations from one stage of its development to another. The second most effective way to get the best results from a system is to have a great model of that system, and to leverage the features of the system.

Krugman’s problem is he does not have, nor does he believe anyone has, a good model of the system. He points out that technological change of the “whole digital era, spanning more than four decades, is looking like a disappointment. New technologies have yielded great headlines, but modest economic results.” “Why?” he asks.

The problem with Krugman’s model, is he appears to have conflated two, if not three stages of human socio-technological development, and called it the “digital era” when in fact we already know and recognize these stages as the Information Age (50 years), Knowledge Age (10 years), and the current Wisdom Age (which is almost over before it has even begun).

The hoped-for boost to productivity gains that Krugman seeks from investments in the latest technologies is largely negated by embedding out-of-date leadership/management approaches, coordination methods and processing techniques.

Sadly, the operating center of gravity of many organizations remains stuck in the earlier Industrial Age paradigm operating according to a command and control model of management waiting for some upstart from nowhere to finish them off in an act of what Schumpeter called “creative destruction”.

The problem with Hockey’s model is it hails from two socio-technological generations in the past, an Information Age or at best Knowledge Age view of the system. He is betting Australia’s future on an economic model that is on its way out, kind of like over-investing in the horse and buggy and buggy whip manufacturing at the start of the 20th Century, just as motor cars were taking off.

The Australian government is further damaging Australia’s future prospect by cutting investment and support for R&D in the technologies of tomorrow by both the public and private sector – with renewable energy at the top of its hit list.

Instead they are giving big tax breaks – a $20,000 instant write-off – to small business for capital equipment such as cars and computers that are no longer made in Australia, or will soon cease production.

Workshop

Here is a workshop you can use to help your organization think about the structure of future paradigms. It uses a model Maverick & Boutique has developed to help people think about the paradigm shifts that occur at increasingly shorter intervals (see image at the top of the post). We have created thus model by identifying the central scientific model or essence at the heart of current and emerging paradigms, and using the new metaphor to extrapolate from the current system to the emerging system.

We have filled in the blanks for the past three paradigms using the most appropriate metaphor that fits our observations – the computer (Information Age), the network (Knowledge Age) and the ecology/complex adaptive system (the emergent era, we have tentatively called the Wisdom Age). Just for completeness, the earlier paradigm is the Industrial Age and its’ metaphor is the machine.

Our best guess for the next paradigm is the “hologram” metaphor. This conjecture is based on what we have learned from examining the contributions to our strategic planning/future creation workshops involving hundreds of people from all walks of life, in many countries.

The task is to imagine the features of the next paradigm after the Wisdom Age, to think about and describe the kinds of technologies/tools that may be emerging as well as the coordination methods, the rules of interaction, the roles that people play using the hologram paradigm as our guide.

So what features of a hologram might be useful? We know, for example, that if you cut a hologram into small pieces and shine laser light on any piece, you get a 3-D image of the whole, just fuzzier. The means for reproducing the hologram is distributed throughout the entire hologram; just as DNA is distributed throughout every cell in an organism. Thinking about this feature, could we perhaps postulate that leadership capacity or coordination capacity might be best fully distributed throughout the system, in every person, each being capable of stepping up to a leadership role when necessary, rather than being found only in a few individuals, at a single central location (e.g the C-Suite) or at nodes (e.g. team leaders).

1. What are the features of a hologram? Thinking about what it does, how it works etc.

2. Thinking about the features of a hologram (e.g. information distributed throughout the whole of the hologram), how could we interpret this for each of the following features of a socio-technological system – the technologies (tools, technologies, processes, techniques etc.), roles (jobs), rules (rules of interaction, co-ordination or leadership methods), relationships (structure, systems)?

3. Test: How well do the features of the new paradigm align with each other? How well do the features evolve from one paradigm to the next? What inconsistencies are there? What earlier features now inconsistent and need revision?

4. Improvements: What improvements could we make to the model that resolve the inconsistencies within the new paradigm and across paradigms for each feature?

DRY

Democracy of the people, by the people, for the people seems to be failing us. Politicians elected to make decisions on our behalf seem to listen more to their political supporters than the experts.

Climate change is a perfect example of the failure of the current democratic systems to deliver up good governance.

Around the world, there is a growing consensus that we need to take action on climate change. Some 97 pr cent of climate scientists agree on the science, and what the future holds if we do nothing – rising sea levels, wilder weather, displaced populations and changing ecosystems to begin with.

Even some past detractors are changing their minds. In Australia, AGL, one of nation’s largest coal-fired electricity generators, recently announced it would be phasing out its plants by 2050, and expanding its efforts in alternative energy.

But the climate deniers still fight on, hoping to persuade us that the scientific community is committing a massive fraud on the citizens of the world.. In April the Australian Federal Government announced it would be “investing” $4 million to help Bjorn Lomborg who contends that climate change is “overstated” and “not a priority”, to set up a new “consensus center” at the University of Western Australia. Lomborg is from Denmark, that is now the world leader in wind-power generation. Denmark currently generates 39 per cent of its electricity needs from wind, and plans to achieve 50 per cent by 2050. Even in nearby England, where the conservatives have been in government for the past four years, 25% of homes are powered by wind.

This is the same government that slashed investment in R&D for co-operative research centers and cut the funding of Australia’s premier research institution, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. It also abolished the Climate Commission, which comprised Australia’s best climate scientists, economists and energy experts on the basis that the $1.5 million annual operating costs was too expensive.

So what’s going on?

Its all about pandering to the base, the reliable rusted-on voters who deliver political support, and the vested interests that deliver financial support.

A few years ago, the current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, defeated the then leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, in a vote to be the leader of the parliamentary Liberal Party.

Turnbull, an advocate of carbon pricing, was preparing to do the unthinkable; support the Labor Party government of the time on legislation to implement an emissions trading scheme. This plan so upset his rather right-wing backbench and some of their mining industry supporters, many of them climate change deniers, they booted Turnbull from the leadership, by a slim majority, 42-41.

Abbott survives as Prime Minister by a knife-edge majority of parliamentary support, even though his performance in the job has been abysmal. His public approval rating hit a recent low of just 29 per cent.

The breakdown of Australian bi-partisanship on climate change over the past decade mirrors what is happening in the USA. Despite overwhelming evidence from highly respected scientists at NASA and NOAA, the Republican and Democratic parties, at least at the Federal Level, are on a collision course over tougher rules for coal-fired power plant emissions.

Meanwhile, the majority of Americans (63%), like the majority of Australians (75%), believe that climate change is real and a major threat. Yet a small minority in both countries have managed to shift the political game to serve their interests at the expense of everyone else.

If the purpose of democracy is to best serve the needs/interests of the people in both the long term and the short term, then the system of Parliamentary democracy, is longer working as well as it should.

Francis Fukuyama, an influential member of the Reagan administration and author of The End of History, argues that a both-and solution is necessary: liberal democracy in partnership with an “autonomous administrative bureaucracy” composed of people whose job it is to bring the best knowledge and data to bear on any and every issue.

This was once the case in Australia, where the role of the public servant was to give fearless advice to the political leadership, no matter who was in power. Not any more. Australian political leaders now routinely get rid of department heads that offer contrary advice in favor of those who are more compliant or ideologically aligned, rather like the American model. According to Fukuyama, this leads to corruption of the system.

But even when you have a powerful bureaucracy to balance an equally powerful political class, there is no guarantee it will be any better. Consider the current European Union “administrative think” that supports austerity as a way to increase economic output.

In System Thinking terms. a lens through which it is useful to analyse any issue, corruption occurs when the goals of the system are perverted to meet the narrow needs of a few, rather than the broader interests of the many. It comes in many forms, from the extreme case of taking bribes (either administrative or political) to give a party an unfair advantage over another, siphoning off funds to pet projects of either the politicians or administrators, or by simply ensuring that an industry gets preferred treatment, and is allowed to main, harm, despoil or generally have a negative impact of citizens despite the evidence to the contrary, as occurs when there is a free flow of talent back and forth between industry and the bureaucracy.

Workshop

So here is a workshop about political governance.

1. What, in your opinion, should be the goals of the political system? Whose interests should it serve, and how should the system serve those interests?
2. What impact does accelerating change, rapidly expanding complexity and divergence and deepening of disciplines have on the ability of citizens and political class to be informed about the latest knowledge and data on complex and conflicting issues? Give examples of conflicts that are crying out for better analysis.
3. In most current systems of parliamentary democracy, citizens vote for a person to represent their interests in decision making, rule or law making forums. Is the role of representative still relevant? What might an alternative role for the political class be? Where should we strike a balance between representation and leadership?
4. What feedback loops, checks and balances might we build into any new system of democracy to ensure the system can adapt rapidly to new data, new and more robust knowledge and paradigm shifts?
5. Thinking about the way democracy works in your community, state or country what’s working well you would want to KEEP, what’s not working at all that you would want to ABANDON, what could be improved you might want to RE-INVENT, and what is so totally in the past, that you might want to TRANSFORM it into something new, that is a better fit with the emerging paradigm?
6. If you were given the task of designing a democratic system that made it possible for all people to be better and more fully informed about the best and most up-to-date data, the most reliable (or superb theories), unfettered by dogma/ideology, and with biases identified and made clear, what kind of system would you design? What features would it have compared to the existing system. Respond like this: Instead of (current state) we might have (new state).

world risks report

Anyone looking for ideas for new products and services need look no further than the World Economic Forum, Global Risks Report. Each year a group of experts get together and work out which risks are the most threatening to our existence.

Once upon a time it was pestilence, plague, the weather and other natural disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes. They have not gone away, but some very clever people have found solutions to these problems, and turned them into business opportunities.

The first modern sewage systems owe their existence to cholera outbreaks in the 1830s, 1840s amd 1850s in London, United Kingdom that killed tens of thousands, as well as the Great Stink of 1858 which resulted from the overpowering smell of excrement in the Thames River. A huge underground network of sewers was built under the city to pipe it away. Later other European cities followed suit, as did cities in Northern America. Today sewage is a trillion dollar business world-wide.

Safe water supplies using chlorination really only got going in 1905, after a typhoid outbreak in Lincoln, England. The first US installation was Boonton, New Jersey in 1908. Another trillion dollar business.

Until the 1800s, millions of people every year died from infections, most of then preventable deaths. It was only when we realized that germs were the basis of disease and that antibiotics such as penicillin could kill them, that most of us began to survive, not one, but multiple infections, routinely.  We have Pasteur, Lister, Fleming and Florey to thank for these discoveries. Sadly, millions in developing countries still die from diseases every year that are preventable in the west. Yet another trillion dollar business. However, our war on germs has caused some bugs to mutate and develop resistance. Think golden staff and TB.

Here’s a list of the top 31 risks according to the 2014 Global Risks Report, and an image from the report (above) which shows the interdependencies between the risks, and how they can impact each other:

  • Fiscal crises in key economies
  • Failure of a major financial mechanism or institution
  • Liquidity crises
  • Structurally high unemployment/underemployment
  • Oil-price shock to the global economy
  • Failure/shortfall of critical infrastructure
  • Decline of importance of the US dollar as a major  currency
  • Greater incidence of extreme weather events  (e.g. floods, storms, fires)
  • Greater incidence of natural catastrophes  (e.g. earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions,  geomagnetic storms)
  • Greater incidence of man-made environmental catastrophes (e.g. oil spills, nuclear accidents)
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse (land and ocean)
  • Water crises
  • Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Global governance failure
  • Political collapse of a nation of geopolitical importance
  • Increasing corruption
  • Major escalation in organized crime and illicit trade
  • Large-scale terrorist attacks
  • Deployment of weapons of mass destruction
  • Violent inter-state conflict with regional consequences
  • Escalation of economic and resource nationalization
  • Food crises
  • Pandemic outbreak
  • Unmanageable burden of chronic disease
  • Severe income disparity
  • Antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • Mismanaged urbanization (e.g. planning failures, inadequate infrastructure and supply chains)
  • Profound political and social instability
  • Breakdown of critical information infrastructure and networks
  • Escalation in large-scale cyber attacks
  • Massive incident of data fraud/theft

If you take a close look at the kinds of dangers we now most fear the most, they seem to be breakdowns/failures in the systems we humans have created. They are also mostly in the realm of governance. In the past governance has been the responsibility of our political leaders. And as any avid student of systems thinking will tell you, governance innovation, or the ability to redesign and influence the adoption of the rules of the system, is much more powerful than either product or service innovation.

Here’s a workshop to think about an opportunity creation approach to risk:

Workshop:

1. Brainstorm a list of risks that you, your community or your business face in a normal year. An abnormal year.
2. Choose 5-6 of the most likely or risky events with the potential for the most serious consequence for you, your community or business, and estimate the likely impact, damage etc.
3. Thinking about the 5-6 most damaging, chaotic or disruptive risky events, what if any solutions (technology, services, redundancy, forecasting, early warning, rapid response etc.) are easily or readily available to you. Make a list of the risks and how you can mitigate/reduce or bounce back easily.
4. Thinking about the risks that you cant easily resolve, especially those that have rapid knock on (chaotic effects) what could you do differently to deal with those risky events? What new disciplines might you explore for new and better solutions, or what multiple disciplines and new knowledge from those disciplines could you bring together to deal with the risk in a new way?
5. Thinking about the World Economic Forum Risks Report list of risks, how could you, your business or your community use its expertise/new knowledge/experience to prevent, mitigate, or rapidly respond to/damp down the effects of a risk, and turn it into a product or service for others to buy.
6. Whats a problem/issues you are experiencing in your community which has defied all efforts to make an improvement? In what ways might you be able to deal with this differently and become an expert in its resolution, then supply that service to other organizations or communities?

 

 

As a visitor to the USA, I have often been puzzled at how US businesses both large and small are unable to see the folly of paying wages that are insufficient for people to support themselves and their families.

Some Americans have to work two or three jobs just to get by, or supplement their inadequate earnings with food stamps or donations from charitable institutions. Some 73 per cent of Americans enrolled in major public benefit programs are from working families according to research. An estimated half (52%) of front line staff of fast-food establishments are on support.

Every time a wage rise is proposed, there is the usual gnashing of teeth, and wails of complaint that the “sky will fall in”. It’s a case of “every man or woman for themselves.”

Some argue that if employers were required to pay a higher minimum wage they would not be able to compete successfully with others. But this is false logic, because if every other employer has to pay the same minimum wages, then we would have a “level playing field.”

Some on the employer side, argue that minimum wages reduce employment. However, numerous studies suggest otherwise, although there is some evidence that minimum wages may have a small impact on employment of young people entering the workforce

But to an Australian, who grew up in a culture where every year there is a legal determination of what should constitute a Basic Wage, it seems mean-spirited and unfair.

From a systems perspective, one of the frameworks we at Maverick & Boutique use to examine the effectiveness of strategy, the clear purpose of the Australian system is to ensure “a living wage” for all, so that the whole system benefits. The clear purpose of the US system is to minimize the expenses of the employer rather than adequately compensate the employee, kind of half-way towards expecting people to work for free.

Not so the Australian system, where the principles of “reasonableness and fairness” are enshrined in the annual minimum wage setting ritual, where employers, employees and the Federal Government argue their case for an increase or not.

It’s been happening ever since the 1907 judgement against agricultural machinery manufacturer, H.V. Mckay.

The judgement wisely says this:

“The remuneration could safely have been left to the usual, but unequal contest, “the higgling of the market”, with the pressure for bread on one side, and the pressure for profits on the other.”

“The standard of “fair and reasonable” must be something else; and I cannot think of any other standard appropriate than the normal needs of the average employee regarded as a human being living in a civilized community.”

“I have invited counsel and all concerned to suggest any other standard and they have been unable to do so.”

“If A lets B have the use of one of his horses, on the grounds that he gives them fair and reasonable treatment, I have no doubt it is Bs duty to give them food and water and such shelter and rest as they need.”

Australia did not become a third world country by adopting the minimum wage. Instead, our country ranks as one of the most successful in the world, economically and socially. Here are some of Australia’s rankings (Wikipedia, 2015):

* CIA World Factbook, life expectancy, 2008: No. 6 in the world
* Economist Intelligence Unit, Prosperity Index, 2008: No. 1
* The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal, Index of Economic Freedom, 2008: No. 4
* World Bank, Ease of Doing Business Index, 2009: No. 9
* United Nations, Education Index, 2008: No. 1
* World Economic Forum, Soundness of Banks, 2009: No. 2

The Australian minimum wage of $16.87 per hour far exceeds the US minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, even when the exchange rate of $US1.00 = $A0.77 is taken into account. It is the epitome of fairness and reasonableness, at least for the moment. And the sky has not fallen in.

Here’s a workshop to think about these issues:

Workshop

1. How many hours a week should you work: Thinking about your own circumstances, how many hours a week should you be expected to work to earn enough to live comfortably on your own, with a partner, or with a family?
2. What expenses should your pay cover: Thinking about your own circumstances, what should a normal week’s worth of work pay for? Think about all the kinds of expenses that you must consider in this day and age.
3. Under what circumstances, if any, is it OK for an employer to pay you less for a full week’s worth of work, than what it costs to live comfortably?
4. Over the past 20 years the minimum wage has declined in value: How did this happen? Who let it happen? What
5. Social costs of the current system: Imagine for a moment that are a sole earner, with several children, maybe toddlers, maybe teens. You earn the minimum wage, which requires you to have two jobs to make enough money to keep your family in food and a roof over their heads. What are the consequences of this for you and your family? Think about travel time, working hours, time you leave for work, time you arrive home, what the children do during the day, during the evening, your social life, your expenses, what you cant afford….
6. Purpose of the system: In an ideal world, what might be a more powerful approach to setting the minimum wages that people are paid and making sure they keep up with rising costs? Should the US continue to leave it up to the market? Or a gridlocked congress? Or should there be another system independent of politics/the market to weigh what’s best for everyone? Suggest some new and better alternatives.

There’s a revolution underway in economic development across the USA. Inching its way out is the traditional real estate-focused approach to economic development and some of the $80 billion in tax breaks (NY Times, December 1, 2012) and other incentives state and local governments offer to attract new businesses and jobs.

Enter stage left are new partners in economic development, a grass-roots assortment that includes libraries,  community organizers, special interest foundations, teenage app developers, Big Picture schools, churches or sustainable energy entrepreneurs.

We explored how communities might partner with such organizations/people at the Build North East conference in Worcester (September 7-9, 2014). Robert Leaver of New Commons Rhode Island and John Findlay, Maverick & Boutique conducted rapid-fire 5 X 5 workshop to:

  • Identify opportunities for partnering with strategically positioned community organizations such as libraries, leading edge schools and colleges
  • Explore how to expand social and business entrepreneurial activities at a grass-roots level, especially in urban and rural settings
  • Plan the start-up of public access making/manufacturing, design publishing, app development in the center of a village or town

Six teams began by identifying a village or town in New England that was experiencing an intractable economic/community development problem.

  • Good New England Bones
  • OK for 6 months of year
  • Struggles economically during Winter
  • Youth unemployment, drug epidemic
  • Can’t get critical skills
  • Good in parts – has sprawl, some blight, brownfields (costly to remediate)
  • “Poverty in paradise”

Each team chose one of six PARTNERS to work with, for which a profile had been developed. Here are the profiles:

Libraries: are adopting new “wise application of knowledge” roles in a rapidly changing and more complex world. They provide a local high touch experience for the high tech world we live in. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Maker spaces – 3D printers, electronic and electrical, publishing equipment
  • Public access to the Internet, computers
  • Lend books, CDs, software, equipment,
  • Meeting rooms and meeting facilitation
  • Incubator spaces
  • Courses for completing K-12
  • Support for college study and research
  • Research for new businesses
  • New skills – software, webpage, databases

Public access manufacturing/makerspaces: Cooperatives and companies such as TechShop are establishing manufacturing and production facilities for the public to rent/use by the day, week or month. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Time share equipment use
  • Basic training, On-site instruction and college courses
  • Metalworking – mills, lathes, routers, plasma cutters, 3D printers
  • Culinary – shared commercial kitchens, Many kinds – metal working,g rooms Agricultural – equipment for bottling/canning, fermented products – wine, beer, cheese and yoghurt production
  • Arts and Artisan – woodworking, framing, showrooms etc.

Big Picture Schools: Personalized learning one student at a time. Big Pictures Schools prepare students for the real world, with applied as well as soft skills – leadership, project management, mentoring and planning – rarely found in “curriculum driven” schools. Their roles in economic development include:

  • Students complete an authentic project connected to their interest
  • Students learn how to be adults by being with adults
  • Mentors are expert in the field of student’s interest and in their field
  • Assessed by growth and change, not tests; family involved
  • Project based – portfolios, exhibitions, reflective journalling
  • Small group learning, maximum of 150 people per school
  • Learning by serving the community via projects

Churches: As community and economic development are increasingly inseparable. Faith-based organizations, which have a long history of education, health care and support service delivery have a critical role to play, including personalisation – reversing the trend to corporatisation and large scale service delivery. Their roles in economic development include:

  • Education and health care service delivery
  • Support for those who have fallen on hard times
  • Aged, children’s, and rehabilitation services
  • Fostering a sense of community
  • Drug dependence and recovery services

A gaggle of 14 year old app developers: Who knew? Many of the next generation of Tech Millionaires are starting their businesses on-line before they are old enough to drink or drive.  They are developing phone and tablet apps that operate at between current paradigms and disciplines. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Capable of building new applications in a few weeks.
  • Low-cost business models
  • Solve customized local business and community problems
  • Connected to the world and other developers
  • Entrepreneurial – regard work as projects rather than careers
  • Low barrier to market entry

Sustainable energy entrepreneurs: Plug-and-play sustainable energy solutions which deal with the business case, permits, marketing, installation, connections to the grid or shared use are the hallmarks of the sustainable energy entrepreneur. Their new roles in economic development include:

  • Local energy production from solar, wind, biomass, pellets
  • Local solar networks, linking neighbors with great and not so good aspects
  • Architecturally appropriate moldings to integrate solar into New England-style houses
  • Transportation fuels from landfill gas, biomass gas; biodiesel
  • Plug-and-play solutions which solve the complexities of permits, connections

Participants used a worksheet to collect ideas from both the perspective of the TOWN and the new new PARTNER, and how each could serve each other’s interests in a syngeristic, win-win-win way, so not only did the participants get a successful result, but so did the broader community system.

Workshop

Here’s the workshop outline:

1. TRENDS: What are the big trends for your TOWN? What are the big trends for your PARTNER?

2. CAPACITIES RESOURCES: What resources, capacities and other stakeholders do others in the TOWN have that could be really useful to your partner? What skills, capacities, access to resources, customers and other stakeholders does your PARTNER have the town needs?

3. BAKING A BIGGER CAKE: How could the TOWN help your partner become very successful and the town/region to be successful as well? How could your PARTNER help the town/region? How could you put the TOWN and PARTNERS’s resources and interests together to bake a bigger cake?

4. FUNDING AND FIRST STEPS: To get started, what are the first steps? Who will you get involved? How will it be funded? Actions: Who, by, for?

5. REPORT BACK: Prepare for the report back in any way you choose but at MINIMUM, give the project a SNAZZY 4-5 WORD TITLE AND A 25-WORD DESCRIPTION. (Consider Song, Dance, Skit, Slides/Talk, Demonstration, All of the above, etc)