I recently participated in the State Science and Technology Institute annual conference. These conferences are always a great chance to connect with peers around the country but also to reflect on what is ahead for us all. It was exciting to see a diverse group and a significant number of first-time attendees. This is a great demonstration of new energy in the organization and the network of people looking to make a difference.
As I traveled home I started to reflect on three takeaways that I want to explore more as I reflect on the past year and look to 2019.
First, we are not doing enough! There was a healthy amount of commentary and discussion on the reality that while some of the simple economic indicators are positive, the vast majority of the underlying data – especially the indicators used to look at the future – education attainment, indebtedness, net financial worth, poverty rates, climate change, etc. are all really bad. We can not get distracted by the soundbites of economic strength, we must focus on the economic stresses that exist at some level in every one of our communities.
Second, we need to collaborate even more! The stresses that our communities face are too much for any one organization to address, but many try. Whether it is the human nature to compete or a sense that financial support for mission-driven organizations is a zero-sum game, I continue to see a lack of collaboration.
Leslie Smith from Epicenter in Memphis and I hosted a breakout session on Network Leadership where we asked participants to role play. While some enjoyed the opportunity to get out of their own persona, many struggled to put themselves totally in the perspective of their role. It is not easy to relate to others, especially when their views about the past and future of a community differ. Our default is to often go back to our comfort zone of peers and own organization. By collaborating more, we gain the perspectives of others, resulting in stronger leadership and better solutions.
Third, we should get together more! In the early days of Fourth Economy, we created this image to represent the drivers and assets of the fourth economy. In many ways, we have been pioneers in ‘preaching’ the virtues of broad-scale collaboration. What I’ve come to appreciate even more is that the People asset can be the greatest, but it can also be the most difficult barrier. If people are not able to build trust, empathy for one another, and a shared understanding of the past and vision for the future, we will not be able to do better. We will see some ride the economic peaks while many more become further from the opportunity. We will question what we could have done to prevent the next economic downturn or to help those in our community.
I’d rather not wait and will look for opportunities to push myself to get together with people in the communities that I work, live, and play to increase my own understanding of their vision and needs. I hope you consider doing the same.