Remarks (or some variation thereof-I veered way off the script here) prepared for “Why I am Going to BIF7″ Community Presentation, September 15, 2011.

MojoCoWorking, Asheville, NC 

I may sound strident. Actually, it’s impatience. Asheville has high unemployment. Add in both underemployment and those who have given up- the U6 Index-we are in dire need of attention. There is a direct correlation between the U6 Index and food hunger. Asheville is the number 7 metro area for food hunger in the country. We have people in our community who are hungry.

I do not want to sound earnest. I absolutely despise earnestness. I happen to believe that, given Asheville’s assets and our location, we can do better than we are. We are in the middle of the fastest-growing megaregion in the country. We can’t do something with that? We need a different framework for development. We need to connect to each other and to those within our megaregion, and then connect the megaregions in this country. Asheville is part of Appalachian culture, which comes with it’s own historical development baggage. Ron Eller wrote a great book looking at Appalachian development efforts since the 40’s. At the fateful meeting Chris and I attended so long ago, Becky Anderson remarked that Western North Carolina communities were as isolated from each other as they were from the outside world. This region has incredible assets. We need to put the pieces of our region together differently in a way that creates a more generative sense of possibility for our citizens.

I am going to BIF7 because I am dangerously close to becoming a cynic. I subscribe to Ben Zander’s definition of a cynic:

“A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.”

My passion for community (and my work to develop communities) has become little more than a dying ember. My complete trust in Deb Mills-Scofield and Eric Marr has made me heed their sound wisdom and guidance. If either one told me to jump from a precipice, I would do so without questioning them.  I was told: “BIF7 will completely change your life and your perspective.  You have to go. This is the most important thing you could do for yourself and your community. You will find people just like you.” Zander advises to not speak to a person’s cynicism, but to “speak to her passion.” BIF7 spoke to my passion, that little dying sense of possibility which has all but been extinguished in the past two years. The thought of going to Providence seems inconceivable, on many levels. But I know I have to go.

Business Innovation Factory is lead by Saul Kaplan, someone who I have watched closely since his days working in Rhode Island economic development.  I have found the organization’s intention and strategies to be compelling. “Our network of innovators, transformation artists and troublemakers are designing the future.” Innovators? Transformation artists? Troublemakers? Designing the future? I’m not certain where I fit in that description, but they sounded like they’d be a helluva a lot of fun to hang out with. The BIF genome is brilliant: Connect. Inspire. Transform. Those three words make my pulse race with possibility. Who couldn’t use a dose of that right now? I know I crave these things.

The BIF7 Storytellers fascinate me. Several have taught me new ways to think and see the world. I wanted the opportunity to thank them and to ask some pointed questions related to my audacious intentions. I have long admired the perspicacity of John Hagel and am certain that his ideas about “Pull” as a cultural force directly relate to regional economic development. Valdis Krebs and Duncan Watts are responsible for my fascination with social network analysis and network development. Whitney Johnson has been a hero. She has recently become a sort of virtual mentor, bestowing on me a level of trust that takes my breath away.  Babson College’s Len Schlesinger was presenting the Babson Entrepreneur Experience Lab research.

Asset-based community development has been a guiding principle in my own practice.  Community development is not a sexy field. Most people have absolutely no idea what it is. I have come to understand this simple truth: “everything is interrelated and everything is related to community development.” The inflection point where the intersection of ideas and actions really matter is at the community level. Angela Blanchard is an artist in the community development field. Her work at Neighborhood Centers Inc is the most exquisite rendering of community development’s highest vision:  focus on the human, social and cultural strengths of vulnerable populations-“You can’t build on what is broken.”  Personally and professionally, I yearn for her story. I know the little broken places inside me needs to hear her speak. I know my professional passions need to be flamed. I needed to hear what I know will be  an inspirational and transformational story about community.

As an artist in a past life, I read the biographies of the other BIF7 storytellers with interest. I have complete faith in the storyteller artists. I know they will share through images, sounds and words a unique vision of the world and transformation. Those pioneers who are changing the institutions which thwart our progress will show me new ways of thinking about the “how”of systems transformation. I hope to learn a great deal about their thinking processes, and am very curious to see if there are patterns emerging.

In closing, I would like to say that despite my specific plans for BIF7, I am open to what may be the greatest opportunity of the summit. Saul Kaplan speaks of RCUS- the Random Collision of Unusual Suspects. Given the diversity of those attending the Summit, I leave for Providence in four days completely open to the possibility that something wonderful and unanticipated may happen or result from randomly colliding with the ideas and knowledge of other unusual suspects.

Thanks to MojoCoworking for hosting this presentation. Thank you to Jim Smith and Thomas Beckett for their support and organizational skills. Thank you to all who attended and contributed to my attending BIF7

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  1. kbroccoli says:

    I hate that I missed BIF7. Just learning about it now through this post. And my family live in Providence, so it would have been ideal. In any case, although I’m all for innovation, here’s some precautions:

    A lot of business owners constantly start projects that excites them only to later let it go as they move on to something else. They call it “innovation”.

    Well, innovation is vital, now more than ever. But if you don’t stick it out and finish implementing your ideas, they aren’t going to help your business. They just remain good ideas and nothing else.

    Why does this happen to so many of us who own businesses? I’m not really sure. I suppose that it is just the brain’s attraction to anything new. Or maybe it’s our entrepreneurial spirits. But I do know that it’s not good. Sure, it can be fun to constantly be involved in a new endeavor, but in business you need results that produce profit.

    So what to do about it? I recommend trying these two things:

    1) Evaluate all projects and activities that you are currently involved in and decide if they are truly the things that are most important to your business- the type that will bring measurable benefits. Writing down what business projects you spend time on for a week or two would help to see what activities you are busy with compared to what you might think that you’re busy with. You need to make definite decisions so that when you stop an endeavor, it’s because you conscientiously chose to do so. You evaluated the project and realized that it was not the ground-breaking idea that you thought is was when it was first conceived. And when you stick to one, it should be because you know it’s a killer project that needs to followed through.

    2) Remind yourself daily of what you consider to be the most important projects. Don’t just make a list. Read a portion of a book each day that is specifically related to the most-important activities in your business (or re-read sections that you’ve highlighted). There should only be between three to six essential projects (of which you personally are taking the initiative) at any time in your business. Spend about 15 minutes reading about each one. An hour to an hour and a half every day might seem like a big investment, but not when you think about the results it can produce, namely concentration of your time and energy on those things that you’ve purposefully decided are the projects that are the most important for your business. I say reading a book, but any format will do. You could listen to a podcast, watch a video online (such as a lecture on iTunes U) or rent a documentary from Netflix. Or read more of this blog. The idea is to constantly remind yourself of why your project is worth doing. If you’re not regularly feeding your mind with info that is related to it, your enthusiasm could easily die. So keep it kindled!

    It would be a shame for years to go by (or your whole life) and you discover that you’ve dabbled in all sorts of business projects, but never brought many of them to life.

    Better to decide what you want now. Then do it.

    • sandymaxey says:

      Kevin. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. These are really important reminders for entrepreneurs. A sound entrepreneurial development system, which include entrepreneurial networks, goes a long way towards keeping people on track. At least that is what I have seen in my experience. Welcome, and thanks again for your post.

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