Reshoring

    Baby Steps To Breakthrough In Regional Economic Development

    What_About_Bob__001Creativity, Innovation, and Economic Development — Embracing the Challenge

    Better Questions Means Better Answers for Regional Economic Development

    It’s about Attitudes, Projects, and Baby Steps

    Economic Development is important and challenging work. Having just interviewed players in this field and surveyed some regional initiatives — it’s clear that innovative work is being done in regional economic development — by some.

    I suspect that many in the field find the economic development challenge overwhelming. A bit like the Bob character in What about Bob, it’s tough to be creative when you are afraid to take a simple step. Thank you Bill Murray for a memorable character.

    Let’s face it, some regions always seem to lose out on the new plant. Some cities struggle along and never seem to get over that post-manufacturing-exodus hump. On the flip side, you look at a city like South Bend and you see how things can be turned around with positive creative action. Ten years ago South Bend was on the brink of collapse. They still have a ways to go, but they’ve made some amazing progress.

    If you’re trying to grow a rural region, or a town off the beaten track, or an area saddled with mediocre infrastructure, you’re behind the eight ball before you even start. Big city economic developers have a different set of issues — negative perceptions of the cities brand, lack of cooperation from key players, blighted areas, talent draining to sexier places to live, unions, etc.

    Everyone wants  a breakthrough idea, be it a clear point-of-difference, a “nowhere but here” claim, a rich talent pool, and an authentic and attractive brand. Breakthrough ideas are slippery and elusive in every domain — and economic development just might be the slipperiest of all.

    Applying creativity to the economic development is where it starts — and that’s a tough place to begin. If you don’t think you’re creative (and half of all people don’t) the elusive idea becomes the impossible idea. Doing better with economic development might just start with personal attitude about creativity.

    But it’s much more than an econ developer’s creativity. It’s about the collective creativity of the whole community.

    Richard Florida states that creative people (the definition is far broader than artists, he calls creative workers “High Bohemians”) are the foundation for economic growth. How do you attract those classically creative types? Those young entrepreneurs, designers, engineers? How do you get them to bet their lives and careers on your region? What’s the compelling idea that has them putting down stakes? I’ll suggest that it’s not usually about money, it’s more about life style. What kind of life style does your region support? Is it open, tolerant, accepting, and fun? Does your region invite makers and entrepreneurs? Does your region support the arts and cultural events? Notice that all those touchy-feely things are essentially choices. The ideas flowing from these questions might require funding, but the choice and the attitude cost nothing.

    Beyond attitudes, better economic development really gets going with better questions. Generating ideas on the platform of the same old questions is likely to get you the same old ideas that don’t quite work, or are not truly exciting and breakthrough. Better questions means better answers.

    I have empathy for those folks trying to make something happen. It’s a given that creativity is hard to get your arms around. It’s a mushy concept filled with myth, mystery, and mayhem. It shouldn’t be such a mystery but for many it remains one. Here’s a starting point to rethink your view of creativity: Creativity is less about the arts and self expression and more about something Economic Development types do everyday — complex problem solving.

    The good news is creativity is not that hard to understand with the new and more accurate lens of complex problem solving. The bad news is creativity alone gets you nothing. It’s innovation that turns a mountain spring into bottled water — a product on the shelf ready for purchase.

    Make no mistake: innovation is complex and difficult. My colleague in innovation consulting crime Bob Eckert identifies twelve factors, somewhat akin to the Boy Scout oath (leadership, resources, experimentation, talent, technology, focus, etc.) any one of which can hose your innovation effort. We need look no further than Kodak to understand that money, resources, and talent do not necessarily win in the long run — Leadership can muck it all up. Lack of talent can take a well constructed effort and turn it to dust.

    That’s why Innovation — in the realm of Economic Development — might be the toughest innovation challenge of all.

    Why? Because the complexities are magnified by the scope.

    All of us must come to terms with our personal creativity, that is, if we want to be more creatively effective. Then, as leaders, we must cope with the creativity and innovative capacity of a team, or more broadly, an organization. The more people involved the harder it gets because now you’re talking about culture. Culture change in an organization, say moving from an innovation resistant culture, to an embracing innovation culture, is a bear of a transition to make.

    Then think about how an economic development group in a region, are in a sense are managers of the creativity and innovation for an entire area. With hundreds of other organizations and thousands of people, even millions of people, in an area. Moving the needle on creativity and inspiring meaningful real life innovation, in a region, is like tilting at windmills (cue music from Man of La Mancha). The thought is simply daunting. I would imagine that some think it impossible — and that’s a very bad headspace to be in if you’re trying to innovate. Take heart. Think Baby Steps.

    The principles that drive successful innovation in an organization can also guide regional economic development.

    It all starts with innovation projects. The only thing that changes culture is a project.

    I repeat, the Only Thing That Changes Culture is a Project. Don’t take my word for it, listen to Joseph Juran the quality guru.

    All improvement happens project by project and in no other way. — Joseph Juran

    All the studies, theory, research, debate, and discussion is only helpful if they fuel a real world project. So, economic developers — Four Baby Steps for Economic Developers:

    1. Get a project in motion. Find a problem, start solving it with a structured process like CPS*.
    2. Create a small success.
    3. Then do another project. As Bill Murray’s character in What About Bob found so enabling — it’s about Baby Steps.
    4. It needs to be a continuous cycle of projects. Constant Baby Steps.

    This is how you break down the complexity and take those baby steps that lead you up to that mountain top, that culture change, those elusive ideas and jobs.

    I have more to say about the How, but I’ll end this by summing up my advice for economic developers: It’s about problem solving, it’s about better questions, and it’s about projects. Try my Four Things!

    *******

    *CPS is easy to learn — read my business novel, Jack’s Notebook and in three hours you’ll have a complete understanding of this powerful framework for structured problem solving.

     

    Comments

    Rural Broadband Necessary for Rural Innovation

    Tuesday– September 23, 2014 It’s nice to see that people are recognizing that innovation isn’t always in Silicon Valley. Writing you today from the countryside in Three Oaks, Michigan, aka “Michiana” — where my poky web access is satellite based. Steve Case’s article earlier this week in the Washington Post  – Why innovation and start-ups are thriving in ‘flyover’ country –  is spot on. Case, you may recall, was co-founder of AOL. He correctly identifies the reasons why Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati, and other smaller cities are becoming vibrant centers of start-ups. He’s asking for investments of time and money to be made in order to further the trend. I agree, and… He didn’t go far enough with his article — he missed one

    Read More..
    Comments

    Support RAMI

    We Can’t Get Serious About Manufacturing Soon Enough. I support RAMI. I read with interest a post on the congressional blog The Hill. In a rare example of cross party cooperation it would appear that the Senate is taking action on supporting growth in our manufacturing sector. Do read the piece but in essence the idea is to set up a national network for manufacturing innovation. This would build on the pilot center/hubs for innovation already set up by the Obama administration. Kudos to Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri). I like your style gentlemen — first for working in a true bipartisan manner, and secondly for doing it on something so important. The bill is called Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI). Congressman Tom Reed (R-New York) and

    Read More..
    Comments

    A New Idea for Black Friday

    The concept of Black Friday has me thinking about what we reward as consumers. My idea of shopping has nothing to do with sharp elbows, crowds, or even bargains. The kind of shopping I like is when I find something truly unique, really special and creative or innovative, at a small shop or family business. Best for me if it’s made in America, and of high quality craftsmanship, to me, this is real value — and I’ll buy that, I’ll reward that. That kind of shopping is increasingly hard to do. As I watched CNN this morning I was a bit amazed by all the “news” around the concept of Black Friday. Man-on-the-spot interviews at shopping malls, traffic reports from WalMart,

    Read More..
    Comments

    The Innovation State of the Union

    President Obama made mention in his state of the union address that he wishes to expand the National Netowrk for Manufacturing Innovation concept. I wholly applaud the idea, AND, there might be a more fundamental challenge that needs addressed first. I’ve made the acquaintance of a thought leader with her finger on the pulse of where the nation sits in terms of technological readiness to innovate. Her name is Pamela Menges, and she’s President of a high-tech start up in Cincinnati. She’s also a professor at the University of Cincinnati in their Engineering department. Steve Jobs once challenged Obama to find him 30,000 engineers so he could build a plant in California. That challenge remains a big one, and again,

    Read More..
    Comments

    Detroit Soup — Serving Hope & Innovation

    As a Michigander I’m always looking for some good vibes on the economy. I found it last night on NBC Nightly News, an inspirational story about Detroit Soup.  It’s not a restaurant, but it does serve soup — and something a lot more precious for down-on-its-luck-Motown — hope. Here’s the concept: Detroit Soup is a monthly dinner to fund creative and entrepreneurial projects. Micro grants are awarded at the dinner. Five dollars ($5.00) is the entry fee and it gets you a simple meal — soup, salad, bread — and a vote. They hold the dinner in an old warehouse. Click over to their site and read their backstory, it’s interesting. Apparently this concept has been happening for over three years.

    Read More..
    Comments

    Reshoring – Why It Makes Sense

    It’s a shame that the reshoring trend (of manufacturing back to the USA) will take years to be realized. I’m a fan of course, I’ve written about it here before. Like many trends, it’s emerging in dribs and drabs; and some dispute it’s even really happening. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to raise funds for new manufacturing ventures in the USA. It’s a sad truth today that VC’s are more interested in funding the next iPhone app than a start-up that actually makes something. It’s also not good that the most likely candidates for reshoring — high tech equipment intensive/low labour requirement operations — are very expensive to set up. The business case can be hard

    Read More..
    Comments

    How Reshoring Happens

    Briefly noted: The New York Times ran an article this morning about how Starbucks is moving manufacture of pottery mugs to a small shop in East Liverpool, Ohio. This is notable because it’s another example of “reshoring” — that is, bringing manufacturing from China and other cheap (aka slave) labor markets back to the USA. This is how restoring the economy happens, one job at a time. Kudos to Starbucks for being a good corporate citizen, and doing something that is just plain smart as well. Sales from the mugs will help support Starbuck’s Create Jobs for USA Fund. I’ve blogged about both reshoring and the Create Jobs for USA program here before — nice to see it’s an active

    Read More..
    Comments