Tag Archives: #community

Disrupt Yourself Or Be Disrupted

This post is intended as a starting point for the first Disrupt Yourself Twitter chat scheduled for Wednesday, November 9 @8pm. Follow at #DisruptU.   Many thanks to Jen Silbert for her thought-provoking tweet that started it all.  ** Post may be less than cogent due to a particularly tenacious strain of the flu**


“Most people, I believe, are living four or five years behind the curve of their own transformation. I see it all the time, in my own life and others. The temptation is to stay in a place where we were previously comfortable, making it difficult to move to the frontier that we’re actually on now. ” ~David Whyte

“We give a lot of airtime to building disruptive products and services, to buying and/or investing in disruptive companies, and we should. Both are vital engines of economic growth. But, the most overlooked engine of growth is the individual. If you are really looking to move the world forward, begin by innovating on the inside, and disrupt yourself.” ~ Whitney Johnson

In August,  I received an email from an old friend which included this quote from  Poet David Whyte’s essay “Ten Questions That Have No Right To Go Away.” My friend commented that I had been “behind the curve on (your) own transformation. You were on your heels, not on your toes.” My friend admonished me to “blow things up and re-create” myself. Although he was quite kind and supportive, I found myself bristling at his tone. I wasn’t disagreeing with his assessment, but found little utility in retrospective self-flagellation. Furthermore,  detonation of a fragile subsistence hardly sounded generative or actionable. My resistance was short-lived.

That same day, Whitney Johnson posted “Disrupt Yourself” on her Harvard Business Review blog.  I’ve long admired Johnson. How she has succeeded is as admirable as her level of success. She was courageous in her vulnerability and generous with her insights. As importantly, the “Disrupt Yourself” framework reminded me of my inherent stagnation-aversion. I had willingly disrupted myself in the past, so how could I be so risk-averse about doing so at this juncture? In one of those “Cue the cosmic laughter” ironic moments, I recognized that my personal behavior was more congruent with those very organizations I had railed against.  Opportunities for alignment and congruence are a gift.

The brilliance of Johnson’s post lies in the personal application of widely-accepted business innovation concepts. This framework, complete with business research citations, depersonalizes shadows of fear, doubt and unknowing. These factors are assumed to be a given in business, why not for personal transformation? Johnson’s pragmatic discussion about her lessons learned shed light on the very roots of resistance:

  • Be assured that you have no idea what will come next. Because disruptive innovations are in search of a yet-to-be-defined market, we can’t know the opportunity at the outset.  “Dear You. If you ask for pro forma projections about what disrupting yourself will look like, you are wasting your time. Stop it.”
  • Throw out the performance metrics you’ve always relied on. “A disruptive innovation must measure different attributes of performance than those in your current value networks.” “Nearly everyone hits a point in their life where they examine their trajectory and consider a pivot. We typically label this mid-life crisis, but isn’t it more often a re-thinking as to which performance attributes matter?”
  • Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course.  “…firms seeking growth via new markets are 6x more likely to succeed than firms seeking growth by entering established markets, and the revenue opportunity is 20x greater. It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? When we start in a place where no one else wants to play, where the scope of the opportunity appears limited, the odds of success actually improve.”  “As you walk away from a future you easily foresee toward a more obscure trajectory, there will be times when you will feel lonely, scared, and even impoverished. But as you face your personal innovator’s dilemma, both the probability and magnitudes of success will improve greatly.”
Disrupt yourself or be disrupted. Those are the choices. Begin with a generative framework that depersonalizes the process. From that context, disrupting myself is as exciting as market disruption. What are your thoughts, ideas or questions about disrupting yourself? Let’s make the disruption a little less lonely: Please join the #DisruptU twitter chat on Wednesday at 8pm
Read more about how to disrupt yourself from the ever-insightful Molly Cantrell-Kraig here.
View Whitney Johnson’s BIF7 presentation here
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Remarks (or some variation thereof) prepared for “Why I am Going to BIF7″ Community Presentation, September 15, 2011.

MojoCoWorking, Asheville, NC

Let me state for the record: I am intending to purposefully eschew the traditional economic development system.  As an inherently flawed relic of the industrial age, the current system will not save our region. I am speaking of the system and institutions involved. There are many fine and dedicated people who work within these institutions. That does not mean there is not an insidious dynamic that purposefully thwarts new ideas. This Cadre of Malfeasance  is  more interested in jockeying for political position, maintaining their relevance and revenue streams. I have no interest in contributing to their efforts any longer. I’ve been involved with three separate efforts which point to far richer opportunities to harness our region’s greatest underutilized “asset”- our people. The ideas, knowledge, networks, experience of our citizens are being ignored by traditional economic development efforts.

My first regional project in Western North Carolina showed me that this region, as a cultural norm, possesses a remarkable level of community commitment. As I toured the region, giving numerous presentations, I was astounded by the response. Over the course of only four months, I received over 475 emails and phone calls from people wanting to volunteer for the project. These were all unsolicited offers. I knew something remarkable was happening. I doubted the presentation itself caused this response- I daresay, I am hardly the evangelical type.  The reason for this unprecedented response is irrelevant. The economy crashed, my contract was not extended. The project was revamped, renamed. *Cough. Bastardized. Cough* The project scope was narrowed. The time frame extended. Of course, the budget remained intact. I anticipate an estimated economic impact of this effort to be approximately $1.50. This happens frequently, so I wasn’t shocked. However, I was absolutely sickened to hear the current approach would have virtually no active engagement with citizens. Those 475 volunteers were ignored. Social Capital is not a disposable commodity. This is a fundamental guiding principle of my practice. I have too much respect for the people within a community to have such a blatant disregard for their value. To this day, I feel responsible for this situation. Losing a project that I had designed was rough. Hearing how citizens were ignored absolutely pissed me off.

The Asheville Google Fiber Initiative provided me with another glimpse into the depth of community commitment. I was asked to help with the Town Hall meeting. Given my fundamental audacity, I suggested a public process to gather community ideas, which could be submitted with the application. Of course, this notion was insane. No budget. No stakeholder analysis, let alone preparation. Any opportunity to engage citizens, to teach a little about 21st Century economic development and innovation should be seized!

Using a proprietary process I designed to model the dynamics of an innovation economy, the 250 meeting attendees demonstrated what I refer to as “The Art of Community Development.” The interaction between citizens was extraordinary. The ideas generated were remarkable. There was a deep concern for social equity, the environment, education, healthcare. The really important stuff. I knew something about this process had struck a chord with those involved. I had several people approach me, one in tears, to thank me for providing them the opportunity to contribute. One woman stated, “Imagine what we could do if this was the way we always did things in our community. We know this Google Fiber Initiative is ephemeral. But look at these ideas. We don’t need Google Fiber to do these.”

I transcribed all of the ideas, wrote the report, hit send. In some economic developer’s files is a treasure trove of brilliant ideas for our community. I still have a copy. I’m not leveling accusations at the organization involved. Doing the work to develop those ideas is well beyond the mission, scope of practice and capacities of the organization. Frankly, I don’t see any organization within the region that has those capacities.

The third ‘learning opportunity’ was, personally, rather painful. A retired social scientist from a FAMOUS SOCIAL NETWORK wished to bestow his wisdom onto our community in the form of a “social enterprise.” I was asked to lead the community interaction component. Several weeks into the project, I realized his magnamity had little to do with wanting to contribute to the community. Increasing citizen use of the FAMOUS SOCIAL NETWORK’s  advanced search function was not going to transform our regional economy. The entire effort ended badly (actually it ended with my vomiting in an alley-a long and ugly story). However, I learned so much about the community and citizen perception of the possibilities for the region.

When facilitating public meetings, I usually employ a feedback loop called a White Sheet. Yes, a simple sheet of white paper. I ask people to take notes, ask questions, provide responses. In this case, the response was overwhelmingly negative. Every person involved admitted to being uncertain about the social scientist’s intent. One went so far as to call him “cagey”. Trust is a fundamental necessity in any successful community development endeavor. People did not trust this man, despite his star power. I  contacted each attendee. I was stunned by the precisely articulated demand for actionable efforts. “We have to find a new way forward. No more meetings that go nowhere. No more initiatives or projects. No more people coming into our community telling us what we need.” Wow!

Let me be clear. We already have what we need in this community- committed, engaged citizens eager to contribute their gifts: their ideas, their networks, their experience. The missing link is the white space opportunity. We need a system to harness that inherently entrepreneurial energy.

How do we build this? Please note, the question was not if we should do this. I have many ideas. Actually, I have the beginnings of a plan- a sketch, a study, a first rendering. A priority must be to focus on increasing the metabolic rate of ideas throughout our region. We also need a rapid means to prototype, experiment, fail, learn and adapt all of these components. We need to demand of ourselves a level of civic innovation commensurate with what is expected in the private sector.

What is required? I will just sketch this out for you, briefly.

  • A shared understanding of 21st Century economies and economic development
  • Skill sets for 21st Century civic engagement
  • Regional entrepreneurial networks
  • A new system for entrepreneurial development
  • The 21st Century civic infrastructure at the intersection of living and virtual networks

Please understand one thing: I intend to making this a reality. I don’t claim to know precisely how this will unfold. I don’t have all of the answers. I know for certain I am missing certain components. I am driven by this ignorance.  I am intensely curious and am possessed of an irrational level of perseverance. Attending the Business Innovation Factory Summit is an important first step. I have no idea how I know this to be true.  But I’m trusting myself on this decision. I’m seeing an odd confluence of disparate ideas and opportunities slowly coming together, just beyond my fingertips. However, a narrow, yet deep, chasm is in my way. I’m expecting, in some way, for BIF7 to help me to bridge that chasm.

Next: Part III: What is BIF7

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Why I am going to the Business Innovation Factory Summit. Part I: An Introduction of Sorts

Remarks (or some variation thereof) prepared for “Why I am Going to BIF7” Community Presentation, September 15, 2011.

MojoCoWorking, Asheville, NC

I work in community economic development. Several years ago I was working in Prince Edward Island, Canada, facilitating innumerable community public processes and keynoting a conference on the rural creative economy. In the midst of a hurricane. Over a meal with community members, I commented that the past, present and future were colliding in remarkable ways. A young leader from a native tribe responded to my comment, “In our tribal lore, those moments where the past, present and future happen at the same time are certain to portend the future.” Today, September 15, is one of those days where my past, present and future are colliding.

First, I would like to introduce my dear friend, kindred spirit and sister subversive, Chris Krauss, visiting from my home state of Maine. I first spoke with Chris in the middle of September 1998 when we shared our ideas for regional entrepreneur development. Our first face-to-face meeting had an ironic Asheville connection. We both attended a presentation by Western North Carolina’s Becky Anderson whose powerful storytelling captivated our imaginations and introduced us to the renowned HandMade in America and the power of place-based community economic development.  That meeting began a friendship that has taken us from innumerable regional convenings, the Maine Governor’s Cabinet, graduate school, Washington, DC to where we are today in Asheville.

Today also marks the first anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. Saul Collins was a humble and hardworking man. He lived his entire life in a  mountain town in rural Maine. He was, first and foremost, committed to family and community. The line between the two was often nebulous. He and my grandmother had their lives deeply woven into the fabric of the community, the dynamics of which absolutely fascinated me from a young age, and probably explains my passion for community today. When I would laud their efforts, my grandfather, ever humble, would say (with his thick Maine accent) , “Deah, I’m just trying to do good work.”

I smiled when I saw how I was described in the announcement for this presentation. “Economic development expert and public intellectual”. First, in this day and age of dynamic change, anyone who would describe themself as an expert in anything is bullshitting you.  While being called a public intellectual” is an honor,  I’m not really certain what that means or if it matters. As the granddaughter of a humble Maine man (who was never impressed by titles or labels), I’m  just trying to do good work.

Also, two years ago today, my entire life exploded. The kind of spectacular detonation that left me alone, disoriented and shaking in a corner. Mute and wide-eyed with terror.  In the aftermath of such cataclysmic devastation, first thing is first- assess the piles of debris for anything salvageable. For me, that meant looking at the assumptions that were the foundation of my former life.  To keep things relevant to our discussion, I will  focus on my work.

One of the guiding principles of my practice in community economic development had been “You control the trajectory of the rocket by being in the control room.” I had spent years influencing the trajectory of the rocket- writing white papers for federal and state policy makers and agencies, writing and presenting policy briefs for anyone and everyone. Designing regional development projects. Participating in political campaigns. Consulting for national and regional non-profit organizations. All in the role of a community-level advocate- what does this effort really mean to people within the community?  A voice from the ground who could converse with anyone at any level, and influence the trajectory of the rocket. My little period of “creative destruction” (I’m an optimistic pragmatist) has taught me one thing.  At this particular time in history, my approach was  misguided and about as helpful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. In fact, I was complicit in the processes which have created this mess.

What do I mean by this? About that rocket- ah, it’s a dud.  I mean that the systems and institutions which are the foundation for our lives are the very ones which have created the detritus of our current existence. These relics also thwart the very dynamics required for our revitalization- innovation. The institutions functioning within these  systems are void of the leadership, vision, fiscal and human capital capacity to transform themselves.  Our leaders can’t decide what the real issues are, let alone figure out actionable initiatives to address them in any semblance of a timely manner. This abject misguided and anachronistic approach to development is being applied globally, nationally, regionally and locally, in perhaps the only example of “Trickle Down” theories actually working, albeit in a stunningly negative way. From this point forward, I refuse to contribute to this mindless incrementalism. In the words of my grandfather, “You can’t push a string”.

What does any of this have to do with why I am attending BIF7? Bif7 is all about the future. I am looking to transform my approach to my life’s work. I am also seeking others who value my perspective, who honor what I am trying to do. Kindred spirits, partners in crime, fellow subversives and those curious enough to explore alternatives with the same driving urgency I feel. I am seeking new ideas for building communities and regional economies. I need to connect with other intelligent, passionate, curious people who are committed to making the world better.

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