Archive for September, 2012

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THE PARTIES versus THE PEOPLE

September 30, 2012

This past week or so, I realized that at a critical juncture in this upcoming election, I’ve turned off.  I am tired of it; I have lost hope that perhaps there was still time to have a reasonable discussion about issues and suggestions for resolution.  I’ve given up at least temporarily, on the ability of collaboration to get us through what this country is facing and somewhat sadly, I have accepted that we have done little more than confuse us all by pitting a 20th century thinker against the first pioneer of the 21st century….and have started to distance myself from what’s going on….a reaction I abhor in not only myself, but also in others. I’d like to think that the next critical month will erase the embarrassing  summer, but I am not optimistic.

So in desperation, as always, I turned to books for the answer.  Sitting on my desk were two: Bob Woodward’s “The Price of Politics”, and “The Parties versus the People” by Mickey Edwards.  Edwards is a one time congressional Republican, a faculty member at Harvard and Princeton, and is now a VP of the Aspen Institute.

I picked the second one to start with as it was smaller and perhaps would give me some insight into what has gone wrong in our world as explained on the book jacket: why we’ve become our own worst enemy:

A penetrating analysis of American democracy’s most urgent threat: a political system so paralyzed by partisanship it is almost incapable of placing national interest ahead of the blind pursuit of political advantage.

Edwards clearly establishes that democratic self-governance comes from mutual respect, the energies of ideas, and ultimately, consensus.  This certainly is something I believe, not just in politics, but in life.

He then establishes that the central challenge of our times is overcoming the tribalism and knee-jerkpartisanship that has emerged over the last two decades.  This, too, supports my thinking.  Our world changed dramatically with the beginning of the Clinton Administration. As the first Boomers in the office, the Clinton Administration got off to a rocky start.  The Clintons survived; and today, certainly have proven themselves, but in the heat of the battle, our two hundred year old governing system did not fare as well.

And so with that, I delved in.  It was not easy reading; it was not necessarily riveting, nor did it necessarily feed my own “reality” of our political world today.  But what it did do, was make me step back from my own positions; it made me think; and I struggled hard to understand the ten steps to change that Edwards put forth.  I am sharing the ten steps below:

  • Take away the right of parties to control access to the ballot
  • Take away the parties’ control over redistricting
  • Reduce campaign spending; increase competition
  • Establish a non-partisan Congressional leadership
  • Establish non-partisan Congressional Committees
  • Restore democracy to Congress
  • Eliminate the trappings of partisanship
  • Longer workweeks; more interaction
  • Eliminate one-party White House strategy sessions
  • Sign no pledges; stand up to bullies

If any or all resonate with you, too, then pick up the book with an open mind and accept the challenges he laid out for us–the voters- because we are the only ones that can change this. 

 

 

 

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DESIGN LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN

September 26, 2012

This week, among other things, I am determined to tackle at least part of the stack of half-read books anchoring the corner of my desk,  Amidst the stack is a publication edited by Architecture for Humanity entitled “Design Like You Give a Damn (2); Building Change from the Ground Up” – published earlier this year. It seems appropriate that it is the first I tackle, as I have been watching snippets of the livestream from Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York all day – with its over-arching theme of “design thinking”, so needless to say, I have design on my mind already!

Architecture for Humanity simply stated exists to provide professional design services to communities in need.  This year they will be building in over 25 countries-applying what they’ve learned over the last decade.

Although I was drawn to the book originally as a means to better contribute to the Plan It Hennepin project, as I read the section on “Lessons Learned”, I kept coming back to the idea that most of these lessons have applications for all designers across a wide variety of disciplines.  So with that, I am sharing those lessons:

Lesson 1:  Unless You Build It, It Doesn’t Matter

For the involved “community” design is just a dream.  Communities want results.  The best way to achieve those results is to immerse yourself in the community to understand the need; then work together collaboratively to achieve the results.

Lesson 2:  Innovation is Only Valuable If It Is Shared

In the case of Architecture for Humanity, program management combined with multiple revisioning plans became over-whelming; a problem solved by creating an open-source, collaborative website that would empower building professionals with design solutions to improve life.

I immediately thought of the application possibilities in our own event industry and the 2 – year CRV project, about to be published as a Meeting Design Case Study by MPI Research – as a learning tool for all MPI members.

Then, immediately I jumped to my issue with our ISES chapter Star Awards Program.  Since its inception, its purpose of recognizing and honoring the work done in the chapter wrestles with the fun and glam of just throwing ourselves a big theme party, complete with over-the-top décor, costumes for those who like that sort of thing, lots of flowing alcohol, and sometimes good food….creating an ever escalating spiral and expense that is not sustainable….with very little else.

I am not a fan of the second option as it diverts the attention from a great opportunity to share the innovation that led to the winners’ success…and more importantly for all to learn what works in our market and why; to use the selected events as the focus; to engage with tdesigner and producer and learn more about our industry and how we can better serve our own clients.

Lesson 3:  Be The Last Responders

Although this is probably most applicable in disaster relief, I did find some commonalities in my world.

Just as Architecture for Humanity think of themselves as temporary operating theatres where professionals with a wide range of skills are supporting the local industry to repair, and rebuild the urban community, are we not also a short-term influx of event professionals hired to support the internal planners, client staff and executives to create, repair,  or rebuild a corporate community?

Lesson 4:  It Is More Fun To Partner

The lesson itself pertains to an opportunity to partner with Nike and streetfootballworld, which enabled them to broaden the mission to involvement in a “sports for social change” movement.  Adding partners created new issues in communications – ultimately solved by sharing space and rethinking a better approach to work together collaboratively. 

While partner led to all sorts of benefits for the organization, an applicable part of the lesson may be that while creativity can lead to a single good idea, innovation – which is adaptable and constantly learned- happened as part of the collaborative partnership.

That is a lesson our team has learned through our CRV collaboration as well.

Lesson 5:  Design is an Economic Tool

Too often, non-governmental organizations fail to engage and support the local business sector.  To rebuild holistically, it is imperative to have strong economic anchors in the community.  Project success occurs when one includes gathering spaces and commercial activity.  

Again, with CRV, we used the coffee shop concept as our design anchor to improve community; in Plan It Hennepin, each team in one way or another naturally migrated towards including gathering spaces- almost as if we each searched to find a way to bring back the town square lost in Americas urban landscapes today.

Additional lessons outlined incuded:  Unleash the Local Talent; Let Scale Happen; There is No Such Thing as Typical; Have a Sense of Honor; and finally, Design Yourself Out of A Job.  Can you think of ways those lessons are applicable in our world?

I think this gives you the idea; my point is simply that Design in any application is not merely pretty or breath-taking; it needs to stimulate and accomplish a desired outcome.  It’s sometimes hard to remember that in our event world, when at least in the short term, we can still get away with a WOW pretty-party; but as we move forward and grow as an industry, more is being and will be required of us.              

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

September 24, 2012

A quick thought this morning as I recall a passing comment from Joe Klein on the Chris Matthews show yesterday….

He shared that some see the Eastwood/empty chair moment at the Republican Convention, as a Republican joke gone bad as it points out the President Obama the Republicans have imagined/made up and are fighting against is an imaginary character. 

Rumor has it, while most intelligent Republicans had horror spread across their face when Eastwood was on stage, Romney was in the wings “gaffawing”.  I think back to those circumstances and the passing filler remarks from the news commentators that hinted that Eastwood, specifically asked to speak by Romney, was an attempt to say, “see, Democrats are not the only ones with influential Hollywood friends”; that no one even thought to ask him what he was going to say or do on behalf of their party and candidate; that Eastwood himself said that anyone who asks him to speak at the convention deserved what he got-all certainly lead to the conclusion that Romney is a loose cannon. 

That is bad enough for the Republicans, and would be a disaster for the country, but really gave some unwanted insight into the future were Romney elected….If we thought his London visit was less than Presidential, I think we would need to be prepared for more of the same….we could be apologizing to countries around the world for four years!

But the real importance of Klein’s comment yesterday continues to haunt me today.  That Obama is portrayed as invisible/imaginary through use of an empty chair being addressed by an old man is really telling.   Indeed, from Day One when the Republican leaders met after the Inauguration to plot their strategy of do-nothing and obstruct, they created in their minds a bogeyman leading our country.  And little by little, over four years as they created a powerful movement of obstruction and character assassin they also created an image of Obama that is imaginary and untrue.    And apparently they did so with no regrets or even understanding of what they were doing, as today, they and their followers all believe the myth they invented.

Make no mistake, I do not think Obama scores 100% on his job evaluation; no one has that came before him, and no one will that will come after him.  But again, I believe in the whole, he has the understanding of what is needed to transition to the 21st century and the world in which we live today.  And on the whole, has accomplished what non-political economists realistically projected he could accomplish in the timeframe of the first term to fix the mess made in the previous eight years.

And what we do NOT need is the Romney cocoon of a 1980s-1990s “successful” business man. ..who also happens to be – not a man with an imaginary “friend”; but a man proud to share his an imaginary “enemy” with his party and a nation of potential constituents.  Not good, that.

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Happy to be here-in the Crossroads of North America

September 21, 2012

Polaris expanding R&D plant-aims to hire up to 350; Apogee…stock soars; Target to hire…90K holiday workers; Boston Scientific buys local medical device company Bridgepoint; UM launches record 12 start-ups in Fiscal ‘12; MN companies named finalists in 13th Annual Tekne Awards; Mpls boast highest average credit scores in the nation…

All that good news packed into the TCB Briefcase yesterday afternoon, and yet I’m sure the Minnesota naysayers still started this morning filled with gloom and doom-most likely fueled by the one negative in that recap:  the loss of 2000 jobs puts MN unemployment rate at 5.9%.

It’s the old story…is the kettle half full or half empty.  Ever the optimist, when I saw the job loss, I wondered two things.  Was that the impact of the end of student summer jobs?  How does that amount of fluctuation measure up to pre-recession fluctuation?  Neither question was addressed in the article.

In any case, the headlines certainly reminded me of many of the positive things in the news over this last month about Minnesota.  I’ve called out a few of them on Facebook as they crossed my desk:

  •          Twin Cities is the 10th largest export market in 2011
  •          Minnesota is # 1 state in credit-worthiness
  •          GDP is higher today than prior to the 2007-2008 collapse with increases of $6.4 Billion
  •          Minnesota has low unemployment rate of 5.9% relative to the country as a whole
  •          More jobs were available in MN on August 30 than any time since 2007
  •          UM/MN business collaboration on improved technology for fracking industry
  •          A recent naturalization ceremony of 1500 recent immigrants was the largest in MN history
  •          A slow but positive recognition in MN that our “jobs” issues are education-related
  •          MN Millennial preference for “walkability” and urban life over the burbs
  •          MN education system in process of transformation integrating new technology that   supports today’s revised learning theories

Week after week, the good news in Minnesota outweighs the bad.  This week, for instance, has been especially positive:

  •          Minneapolis 1 year growth rate for jobs outpaced the state 2.1% to 1.7%
  •          MN has recovered 98% of all jobs that existed when the recession began in 2007
  •          Private sector jobs stand at 99% of 2007 levels
  •          Building permits are increasing; traditional housing sales doubled between the first and     second quarter of 2012
  •          Median housing prices increased 15% for traditional sales; 30% for lender-mediated sales
  •          Income average of $57,000
  •          Poverty stands at 12% – not great, but better than most
  •          MN just received $16 million grant from Department of Labor to support high tech training to meet demands for advanced manufacturing skills (no degree needed) with salaries averaging $42,000 nationally.

All this, and if we don’t remind ourselves differently, we are pulled down into gloom and doom when listening to national news.  While improving, our national economy was in far worse shape than Minnesota, and is recovering a bit slower. If we are not careful, the national picture becomes our individual excuse for not moving forward at a pace we want….we cannot let that happen.

Instead, I prefer to focus on our realistic local picture, and I try to remember some powerful statements I quoted in my August 10 blog entitled “the Opportunity of the Century”.  Both are the words and optimism of the author of that article, Guy Eggers:

The Midwest with its reputation for ingenuity, hard word and common sense will be at the helm of the recovery of the American Dream.

Rather than keep supporting a system that is fundamentally broken, we should harness the collective spirit and creative energies that so define this great nation to create a new business paradigm that truly reflects our values and vision for the world and that will lead to renewed growth and sustainable prosperity…let’s not leave this to the banks, the oil companies and the Chinese to build…Let’s get back to creative, innovative and smart.  Let’s build the world that we would like to see, together.  We have done it before and we can do it again.

To that I only add…let’s stop thinking of ourselves as the “flyover zone” and dream that as we once were, we can become again, the Crossroads of North America.

 

 

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AFGHANISTAN

September 21, 2012

Eleven years ago the shock, outrage, and grief of 9-11 had our country united and we were out to hunt down Osama bin Laden…then reported to be hiding in the mountains of Afghanistan.

I vaguely remember the announcement of war in October, 2011.  I was with friends enjoying the Fall Colors in Taylors Falls.  Our immediate reaction was YES!  We’ve been exonerated.  We did not stand by and take it.  This time, bin Laden will be sorry.  We will make him pay – for sure.

Faintly, I remember discussing a nagging concern…do we know how to fight them?  Remember the Russians and years and years of war with the Afghans that did little but drain money and manpower from the Soviet Union with minimal impact on the situation?  What about the arms provided by the US to the Afghans to help them withstand the Russian attacks – will those arms now be used against us?

But in the wake of our generation’s “Pearl Harbor”, in the end, we united behind our country and welcomed the war as a bold and righteous move.

And quickly, we learned how little we understood tribal wars and how to conduct them.  After seven years under Bush, three years ago the Obama administration altered the approach, ultimately set a goal to be out of Afghanistan by 2014 “with or without” bin Laden.

Separate from the war, but aided by “friends” made in that war, we found and killed bin Laden last year in Pakistan.  However, we remain in Afghanistan to “train” locals to protect their own country.  And this week, after those people we have been trying to train have now killed 51 western NATO troops, NATO has announced patrol training will end – ensuring our 2013-14 withdrawal will  be rougher than anticipated.

As I read the update yesterday, I wondered for a minute what would be different – if anything- today had we not chosen war in 2001, but had focused on the hunt for Osama bin Laden using diplomacy, stealth, and CIA infiltrations to find him.  After all, we had no issue with Afghanistan other than we thought bin Laden was there…he did not create the terror that culminated in 9-11 as an Afghan for goodness sakes.

One will never know the answer to that question, but a Viet Nam and an Afghanistan should signal war as we knew it in the 19th and half of the 20th century is no more.  Wars since Korea are different – long, messy, costly and without opportunity to rally and celebrate interim battles in a journey towards victory.

And for sure, wars to spread democracy are not a sure thing.  The most we can do is share a working model of success and support efforts for grass roots movements.

Perhaps more than any issue in this current presidential election, this change is the single greatest issue for me.  I am sure that is because my stand on the economy and jobs reflects the reset and long recovery theory and thus diminishes what immediate impact either side has for a “wave a magical wand” fix to get people back to work.  However I do know 19th-20th century wars as our defense strategy is a dangerous position.  There will not be a second American century unless we collaborate to plot a NEW COURSE together instead of continuing to argue about who is doing the best job using 100 year old tactics.

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OBAMA and the ELDERLY

September 17, 2012

Voters over 65 represent the age group least supportive of Obama in the upcoming presidential election, rather than following the 20th century Democratic model of the traditional Medicare advantage.  The Press continues to paint this a “paradox”…sometimes with an implied,” what do they know that we don’t know” undertone that speaks loudly of “Father (read: Elders) Knows Best.”

And once again, I say, older voters represented by traditionalists and the first boomers to retire are far too engrained in twentieth century thinking to be the “trusted” resource on this issue.  That is what they learned; that is what they know; that is how they excelled; that is what they expect the world to be going forward.  And therein lays the dilemma.

Changes in the world that began in the 1990s and rapidly accelerated exponentially as we transitioned into the new millennium are challenging all those familiar axioms of our comfortable past.  And change is the least comfortable (and more threatening) the longer one has been vested in something.

So it should be no surprise to press or knowledgeable politicians that this is the case.  It is a natural phenomenon and reaction to change that often destroys the comfort of foresight based on experience.  Experience, although important, will not be what steers us forward safely into the future.  

The Obama administration originally campaigned on hope and change…..I saw that change not as the insignificant- by- comparison personal change but the all-encompassing world changes from the growth in the digital world to collaboration and sharing not brute power, to the rise of radical Islamists, to a new world that replaces the Industrial Century with new challenges, just as the industrial world replaced the agrarian culture of the century before.  In the age of globalization, we needed to change as a country in order to build the second American century – not by brute force, but by emerging new values and skills and ways of leading the transition with thought and understanding, not guns. 

I still believe that this is, indeed, the change needed for the United States to move triumphantly into the future.  But today, I recognize that I was naive to expect that the first explorer of this new world that lies before us, Barack Obama, could facilitate this change painlessly and all by himself.  Columbus may have changed the world of the Americas when he “discovered” us, but it took many more courageous explorers before we amassed the knowledge we have of the earth today!

And, yes, the Obama promises included plans to better the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and a host of other things…some accomplished, and some not so much.  And so, like many explorers that have gone before him, Obama has been questioned incessantly.  We often ignore he  had a BIG SURPRISE waiting for him that had not been revealed when he developed and delivered that campaign strategy….a dirty little secret from the first decade of the 21st century was about to explode….economic practices run amuck were about to wreck havoc on America and the world, and create the greatest financial crash since 1929! 

So while I understand the hesitancy of that elderly group, my only question is why do I – a member of that demographic – see things differently?!!  Maybe I just wasn’t as vested in our unsustainable future, but more realistically, realized it could not last; maybe I was just too against a war we did not need to be fighting in Iraq; maybe my research in experiences, engagement, the impact of technology on my own little world of meetings and events gave me the “cushion” I needed to anticipate world changes as well; or maybe through that research, I was beginning to see the cracks in what had come before, and simply recognize, from living through it, that there had to be a better way. But deep down, I think I got it because I was open to the thinking of the generations coming after me, found them inspirational, and had already experienced I could learn from them as Obama emerged on the scene….so maybe not being so invested in ME, I was open to the change that he envisioned.

And maybe, understanding the changed playing field he inherited, and the fight to save our country he had not planned he had to take on, I gave him a little slack.  That and the knowledge, that even with 20/20 hindsight, I have yet to see anyone always have all the right answers.  Whatever, I still stand with the man – even if that means I stand against my own generation.

 

 

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FOOTBALL: Another American Dilemma Unfolding

September 16, 2012

As we move into the 21st century, advancements in research and brain science are challenging many 20th century “realities and truths” in our society.

Most of you know I feel strongly about how that impacts our education system.  When I say education is an issue today in America, I  am not referring to the inclination of one of our political parties to underfund education or use education budgets to make up deficits or support a favorite war cause where those same uneducated become disposable human resources.   And I do not mean more funding to support the early 20th century educational system that was designed to complement an industrial age that no longer exists and which we continue to hold up as our model.

Instead, I am focusing on a larger issue and mean we need funding for the thought-leaders in education who understand the rapidly emerging societal, business, and labor changes of the 21st century.  We need open minds, a review of new emerging world theories and practices, experimentation, and careful evaluation of results; followed by funding to support and retrofit our own outdated educational system top to bottom to meet the needs before us for the next 75-100 years.

But education aside, that same research and brain science calling for educational reform is also challenging our infatuation with high school, college, and pro sports and changes needed therein. A strong relationship between impact sports and brain damage is emerging.  Unfortunately it meets head on with “winning is everything”.  It seems that without a world war to feed our patriotism as it did in the first half of the 20th century, we have turned our carefully-honed “winning” instincts to business and sports. Winning became everything; workers and players became dispensable.

And today, the Wally Hilgenburg story in the Strib brings home that unfolding dilemma where emerging understanding of our brains is on a course to intersect with that “winning is everything” American culture.   And we as a country need to take this seriously!

[Disclosure:  I like football; however, I am not passionate about it.  All sports are trumped, for me, by meaningful conversations and interaction-which by definition exclude cheering, cursing, hollering- with family and friends, or occasionally even work. In those instances, sports/entertainment  take a second seat.  Generally, I am happy for “our team” if they win—but I neither despair nor mourn if they do not]

And so with a view of sports as entertainment, it may be easier, I guess, for me to recognize the dilemma before us as a nation.   What do we choose when dollars are limited – investment in sports programs or educational systems?  When entertainment pleasure is gained through sacrifice of human beings; is the personal gratification worth it?

I don’t pretend to know the answers; I only ask that we don’t just sweep this under the rug.  It could be YOUR child that is impacted; it could be YOUR mother or father that is injured.  I only ask that we weigh American culture and history against that of the Romans and the gladiators and intelligently move forward to ensure that above all else, we value the quality of human life and continue to make adjustments to protect it, as we learn how revered entertainment practices may endanger it.