Monday, October 31, 2011

The Core Competency At The Heart Of Any Organization

It occurred to me that neither the core competency at the center of today’s community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs) nor even its terminology existed 40 years ago even in terminology when I began my recently-concluded career in that field.

Some DMOs, even though the concept has been evolving for over 11 decades now, are still obsessed with convention sales and yet even they require more than a smidgeon of this competency so critical to much more holistic and contemporary DMOs, especially those such as the one in Durham, NC, that have led the way in  accreditation to the highest standards and best practices.

Unfortunately, this core competency receives far too little, if any, emphasis in most business degree programs including schools specializing in hospitality degrees and very rarely does it appear in continuing education programs or on the agenda for annual meetings of related associations.

Graduate schools that teach this core competency exist in only 52 universities in the nation and one of these is is an historical black university where it first appeared in the name in 1984, at North Carolina Central University.  This, coincidentally occurred shortly after it was put at the center of the strategic direction at the DMO I then managed in Anchorage, Alaska.

This core competency that can make or break the success of any DMO today is the ability to:

  • Create databases to store information
  • Perpetually populate and update these databases in real time
  • Make this information readily accessible on any platform including the worldwide web
  • Make this information retrievable on demand and
  • Make it retrievable as infographics.

Having skills such as these enables people with degrees in library and information sciences to have such a wide range of career choices today including in DMOs.

For information on how folks from the academic side are training people in this core competency, click here and wait for the Fall Issue of NCCU Now to download, then go to page 37.

Located where I live in Durham, North Carolina, NCCU is a hundred-year-old institution, one of the 17 campuses in University of North Carolina System and the first publicly-funded liberal arts college for African Americans in the nation.  Library studies, later to include information sciences, began there in 1939, second as a professional school behind the law.

Today it the study of library and information sciences thrives as essential part of the curriculum even to those in NCCU’s new doctorate program in integrated Biosciences but to none is it more essential than to those pursuing a career in community/destination marketing and visitor-centric cultural and economic development.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Infograpic Turned Lectographic by Giulia Forsythe

Giulia Forsythe

Friday, October 28, 2011

Pass Me That Barf Bag!

Oh my, after nickel and diming passengers with an endless levy of new “taxes” of its own on everything from checked bags to meals and now even certain seats, the airline industry’s association is suddenly “sticking up for us passengers,” using air sickness bags for a campaign to lobby passengers to oppose a user fee to in part pay for airline security.

What hypocrites!  It is nauseating enough for me to need one of those barf bags.

Apparently the airline association believes it is absurd that flyers are charged a user fee to pay for special security, but that it makes perfect sense for airlines to “tax” passengers with scores of special fees of their own, for which absolutely no additional value-added is received.

So-called “hidden taxes” on airline fares pay for airports, airline facilities, airport security, air-traffic control etc.  What’s so unfair about a user fee rather than having non-airline and non-airport users shoulder the burden?  Nothing, because it makes absolute perfect sense.

Tourism-sector industries such as many restaurants are notorious for asking customers to shoulder extra costs but then objecting when asked to carry their fair share of related public costs.  For that matter other tourism-sector industries such as hotels, sports and entertainment businesses, retail businesses and other industries need a dose of humility but none more than airlines.  The majority of these businesses seek or accept public subsidies in one way or another.

Maybe there was a time fifty or sixty years ago when some people flew for the novelty of flying, but today absolutely no one travels on an airline except as a means of transportation.  The reasons for which their “customers” use them are provided not by the airlines but by the communities/destinations that draw them including friends, relatives, businesses and visitor features to which people are drawn.

It may be a valid concern that the new fee will in part be used to reduce the federal deficit but the public has already voiced support for shared pain in that regard.  To complain that the new fee which is only applied after the fare will somehow reduce demand for air travel may be accurate in some very small degree; but it is hypocritical for the airlines to levy new fees of their own without any such concern.

Associations for visitor-related businesses often whine that their members don’t get any respect and whining about the user fees from which they so dearly benefit is one good reason why.

Ugh, pass me that barf bag again!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Fire That Ignited Environmentalism!

Heading west on a cross-country trip a few months ago, Mugs (my English Bulldog) and I took our first drive on historic turnpikes beginning with a slice up through western Pennsylvania and then across Ohio and Indiana.  These roads seemed refreshingly free of the blight of outdoor billboards.

Even though our trip was routed to include National Parks such as Theodore Roosevelt, Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, for some reason it hadn’t dawned on me until I was there on the Ohio Turnpike  that I would first cross through the tiny but sixth most visited Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) which embraces 22 spectacular miles of that famous river once traversed by Johnny Appleseed.

Crossing the Cuyahoga River that day, as it winds between Akron and Cleveland on its way to emptying into Lake Erie, brought back memories of when it caught on fire further downstream in 1969, the ninth time it had done in the previous hundred years dating back to 1868.

The news media latched onto the 1969 event as though it were the first occurrence, just as the news media mistakenly identified a Civil Rights event nine years earlier in Greensboro NC as the first sit-in when many had been held years earlier, such as the many held in Durham where I have lived since 1989.

However, while far from the first, the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River as it passed through Cleveland, a city known for its parks and open spaces, served to reignite nation-wide concern about protecting the environment and spawned guardians such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a host of other environmental protections defamed today by hundreds of attempts to roll them back by Republican-led votes in Congress and state legislatures across the country.

Efforts to establish the Cuyahoga Valley National Park date back to 1910. While it gained some Federal protection just five years after the infamous pollution-fueled fire just downstream, CVNP didn’t become a complete reality until 2000.  However, plans were intensified by the shame of the river being branded in the news and by late-night-talk-show comics by references to the 1969 fire in the river as it passed through Cleveland.

Belying the fact that a Republican President spawned the conservation movement more than a hundred years ago and another the EPA only 17 months after that emblematic fire on the Cuyahoga, ultra-conservative members of that party have long-loathed parks and open spaces as well as environmental protection and dismissed them as “nature socialism.”

In his now-prescient 2007 book Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill,) investigative journalist David Cay Johnson notes that advisors to 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater lobbied for elimination of all national parks.

He also notes that in 1981, the libertarian-ultra-conservative think-tank Cato Institute argued for eliminating all public parks and in 2007 an institute named for the mentor to Republican-Libertarian cult-economist F.A. Hayek denounced parks.

To me, as a moderate-Independent, Republican opposition to conservation, public parkland and clean air and water has been as consistent as it is incomprehensible.  Based on the current votes in Congress and in our state legislature, it is more than fringe support in that party.

Fortunately, many Republicans eventually come to their senses as Goldwater did when in 1996 when, at age 89, he joined the newly-formed Republicans for Environmental Protection.  In the meantime, we just need to protect the environment from those still on the other side of the issue.

Republicans today, all but purged of anything except conservative and ultra-conservative viewpoints, need to heed that organization’s slogan “Conservation is Conservative® !”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Populist Heroes Of America

I live in a state that was ambivalent during the Civil War. One of the very last of the Southern States to secede, North Carolina lost many more lives in that war than others such as Virginia, which is often given more notoriety.

To understand why North Carolinians were ambivalent and/or resistant to the Civil War, it helps to know that in 1860, there were 69,000 farms here, 7 out of 10 of which were 100 acres or less and only 300 plantations owned by just 121 planters.

There were more than 700 farmers for every one planter.  While in general, farmers did not own slaves, planters argued that their profits relied on a third of a million enslaved African Americans.

And yet, the interests of just 121 power-brokers pulled North Carolina into secession and war where 125,000 of its citizens would fight and more than 40,000 would die, more than any other state.

The ambivalence here was not concentrated just along the Appalachian Mountains as it was in Virginia where West Virginia broke away in order to stay in the Union.  Nor did the ambivalence and resistance to the war end when a North Carolinian became the first to fall for the Confederacy.

Pick up a copy of the November issue of Our State Magazine which is just hitting newsstands.  It includes an article in the magazine’s eight part series that runs through next May about North Carolina and the Civil War entitled A Separate Peace.

This month’s piece is about another pocket of resistance stretching across 5,000 square miles from Durham (then part of Orange County) through nine counties to the west across what the author Philip Gerard calls the “Quaker Belt.”

Eventually, a secret resistance called Heroes of America spread through Durham and south and east through the State Capital of Raleigh, population 5,000, and all the way to the coast.

Gerard, who also writes historical novels, chairs the creative writing faculty at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington and his articles in the series are each eventually posted at this link.

He refers to Heroes of America as a “rebellion within a rebellion” and one that appears to me to have been a truly populist union of pacifists and small yeoman farmers, who abhorred slavery.

In Durham that demographic schism as well as the war are interpreted at three state historic sites: Historic Stagville, Duke Homestead and Bennett Place where the Civil War ended.

Reading  A Separate Peace is also a reminder that moderates today must not be ambivalent as other factions become more extreme.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Sense of Place Alliance

Planning officials where I live in Durham, North Carolina will soon begin a periodic review, overhaul and update of landscape/tree coverage standards. With mounting evidence of the many different benefits provided by urban tree canopy, it will be a great opportunity to calibrate those standards to:

  • Aesthetics (Now proven essential to economic development, resident attachment and talent retention.)
  • Crime Reduction
  • Mental and Physical Health
  • Rental, Homeowner and Commercial Property Values
  • Carbon Sequestration
  • Air and Water Purification (especially storm water run off)

This review is also an opportunity to generate reforestation elsewhere in the community equivalent to what is destroyed by development, hopefully at a ratio much greater than 1 to 1. Adding a sense of urgency for Durham is the realization that this is the state’s fifth most populous urban area and the state’s sixth most populous county but within the 17th smallest in land area.Tree Guide

However, there is no reason Durham’s tree canopy can not only be reforested to compensate for development but increased beyond the current 96,240 acres of tree canopy based on just the benefits noted above.

A worthy near-term goal would be to reverse the decline in tree cover and to increase it back up to an even 100,000 acres which would cover just 2% more of the County. Long term, it would be good to index the growth of tree cover to population and additional development, making allowances for preservation of the 26,000 acres of cropland remaining.

Experts have calculated that to offset the carbon generated by Durham would require an impossible 1.3 acres of trees per resident but a reasonable goal would be to strive for .70 acres per urban resident or a tree canopy of 169,000 acres which could include reforestation of lower income areas.

This would add to the 51% of the County and 40% of the City currently covered by trees. To help achieve this goal, it also seems like a good time for Durham to elevate reforestation as a direct or indirect use of impact fees from developers in areas such as open space, trees along roadways etc.

Fueling a sense of urgency, even in less compact communities is that the financing of local services and infrastructure is far too over-reliant on the long-out-dated system of real estate property taxes, first established in this country only out of sheer convenience as early as the mid-1600s and already labeled as long ago as 1895 as “one of the worst taxes ever used by a civilized nation.”

The property tax over-incentivizes the public sector toward development and blinds both the public and private sectors with a false sense of security that belies the erosion of other elements that are even more critical to sustainable growth and quality of place such as preservation and conservation of open space, tree canopy, farmland and historic and cultural assets.

As an example other than tree canopy, according to Durham resident and Duke ecology professor Will Wilson, the author of a new book entitled Constructed Climates – A Primer on Urban Environments, Durham farmland has decreased from 140,000 acres in 1910 on 1600 farms to only 26,000 acres today on the 250 farms that remain predominantly in hay fields that like grasslands provide lots of water quality benefits.

People with both an understanding about the importance of and a passion for preservation of a community’s unique sense of place including open space, cropland, urban forestry and historic structures are frequently frustrated by poor land-use decisions and often fall into the self-defeating trap of either trying to preserve everything or block every threat.

Trying to defend everything just doesn’t work and it dissipates energies and increases public and private sector costs with only token although important results.

These energies are better focused into identifying and securing specific properties and areas to preserve for open space including cropland, as archeologically or historically or culturally significant along with overarching aspects as scenic preservation, tree cover and overall appearance.

While the array of organizations and initiatives involved must retain areas of focus and specialization, each of them must be aware of and interweave support of the others through overarching and interwoven strategies. This includes organizations such as land trusts, conservancies, farmland and watershed stewards, preservationists including both historic and scenic as well as appearance advocates.

Maybe DCVB with a mission on behalf of Durham that includes being the official “guardian of its unique sense of place” and a supporting role to “steward the sustainability of place-based assets” should use its considerable nationally-recognized expertise at forming and facilitating coalitions and strategic partnerships to form an alliance of these partners just as it did for those involved in communications and several other groups of stakeholders.

What could be more relevant and the Durham Unique Sense of Place Alliance has a nice ring (DUSPA.)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Felonious Depravity of Visual Blighters

Marketers are ashamed and a few, dating back to “Madmen” pioneers such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage, have warned in books and speeches about the visual blight created by huge, obsolete outdoor advertising billboards.

But visual blight is well, visual, so in his spare time veteran marketing-video producer Ossian Or of DoubleOMedia visually documents this depravity as he did a few weeks ago with the video posted earlier this month and embedded in this blog.

It documents the most recent cases of felonious tree poisoning, this time in Florida, but that have also occurred in North Carolina and many other states over many years.

Marketers, especially those in my former profession of community/destination marketing must move beyond shame and begin to lead the charge to educate internal and external stakeholders about the irreparable harm this visual blight does to the character and unique sense of place of the communities and states they market.

A good first step would be to ask the primary beneficiaries of that sense of place to join with a community/destination marketing organization as a signatory to Scenic Stewardship Pledge.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Infographic: Beer By State

For more infographics in this series, click here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Infographic : Occupy

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Basaltic Volcanics Of My First Sense Of Place

When people hear I was born and spent many of my formative years in Idaho they typically have one of two reactions:

  • “Oh, where they grow the corn?” – nope, that’s another “I” state, look a little more west, or
  • “Oh, on a mountain top.” – Kind of but a mile-high one buried in lava.Henry's Fork at Ora Bridge by Darren Clark

Fremont County, Idaho is located right in the very nook between Montana and Wyoming, framed by the three looming Grand Tetons to the east and the Centennial Mountain Range to the north which is crested by the Continental Divide.

The County is forested by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest and dissected by the Henry’s or North Fork of the Snake River as it carves from caldera to caldera, slowly descending from the highlands down onto the Snake River Plain to rendezvous fifty miles downriver with the South Fork.

For all of the forests, mountain ranges and rivers, the area is somewhat flat but dotted with hills and dales and filled with “basaltic volcanics” including unique, columnar rock formations, some ground down into incredible topsoil and rangeland. The calderas are part of a chain of large, smooth, hardened lakes of molten lava created as each was filled and then overflowed into another fed from the eruptions of the Yellowstone Supervolcano.

Ranging in altitude from 10,240 feet decending down to 4,380 feet, Fremont County is 80% larger than the land area of the entire State of Rhode Island but just less than 32% is privately owned. The remainder is held in the public interest, mostly by the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management as stewards.

The population of the County is currently 13,242 which is up from 9,351 when I was born but about half what it was around the time my ancestors arrived there during a robust period of colonization.

I was born onto a horse and cattle ranch with related meadows and cropland for raising feed. It was homesteaded and then assembled at the turn of the 19th century into the 20th century by both my paternal great grandparents and grandparents just one mile west of the Ora Bridge as it crosses the Henry’s Fork. (shown in the recent image taken by Darren Clark and used in this blog)

That world-famous fly-fishing river carves south through one of those calderas that stretches from the grandest of the Tetons which loom a few miles to the east across the rangelands of Clark County and the Bitterroot Range to the west as those mountains arches down from Northern Idaho forming the border with Montana.

I left Fremont County and Idaho decades ago but its views and topography and wildlife and sounds and smells are all part of a unique sense of place that will never leave me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Leap Forward For Intra-Neighborhood Communication

Durham entrepreneur Hartmut Jahn has created the next generation in neighbor-to-neighbor or intra-neighborhood communication. Years ago Durham neighborhoods jumped on listservs as a way to communicate but now Neighborship takes listservs to a new level.

The new platform offers everything a listserv does and so much more including:Rockwood Neighborhood Website

  • A website for each participating neighborhood

  • The option of a personal inbox and a method of sending emails for each participant

  • A chat option in addition to email or digests for quicker exchanges

  • A way to enlist and post recommendations for vendors and service providers

  • A means to communicate alerts or information to immediate neighbors rather than the entire neighborhood

  • The ability to get immediate notifications or digests of exchanges

  • The ability to post announcements or events that hopefully will soon tie directly into the Durham Community Calendar maintained by DCVB.

  • A map of the area covered by each neighborhood etc.

For an example of a neighborhood page, I’ve put a snippet of my Rockwood Neighborhood page as an image in this blog. You should be able to click on it to enlarge. Other neighborhoods will be visible after registration.

To register to use Neighborship, click here. To request that your neighborhood be added to the drop-down, email .

I haven’t heard back yet from the administrator for my Rockwood listserv but I know the emails can be pre-loaded to any neighborhood added to Neighborship to make the transition easier. Understandably, although ironically, some neighborhood that that were early-adopters of listservs may feel some reticence, even inertia when it comes to change.

That’s natural but the new platform is a great leap forward and Neighborship is rolling out to communities across the nation making it yet another reason to believe Durham is indeed where great things happen!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

6 Reasons Campaign Advertising Is Futile

On Nate Silver’s blog FiveThirtyEight, political scientist John Sides recently posted an excellent two-part breakdown from the perspective of a political scientist describing when advertising does and doesn’t work for political campaigns.

In short, political advertising by a candidate isn’t that useful unless the candidate is unfamiliar, then only if one candidate greatly outspends another and even then “not for long.”  The ads don’t affect turnout and even when negative, the results are mixed.Tarzan Disney Desktop

This information won’t be new to many marketers including those responsible for community/destination marketing.

The overall effectiveness of advertising has been in dramatic decline but this one element of marketing is often an obsession for a handful of people in every community and especially campaign advisors, most of whom seem to have an understanding of advertising which is wrapped up in ego.

It is big and brash.  It is you telling the world about yourself.  It is Tarzan pounding his chest in the jungle.

But advertising lacks credibility because it is “you talking about yourself” and if there is any group in desperate need of credibility, it is politicians and especially candidates running for office. They rank dead last in surveys of public trust, lower than any other category.

If you happen to see the movie Moneyball you’ll see a humorous depiction of folks who obsess over advertising as a cure-all.  They are similar to the “grizzled advisors” who frustrate the real-life Billy Beane, portrayed by actor Brad Pitt in a film based on the Michael Lewis best-seller, a page-turner about data-driven decision making.

Like Beane’s advisors, folks overly wedded to advertising in this day and age usually are very sensory and rely on what they think they know and who they know without informing it with data.  As Sides warns, “be particularly skeptical of claims” by people who stand to gain or are linked to those who stand to gain from placement of advertising.

Silver’s blog is always worth tracking.  But the first of a two-part post by John Sides on campaign advertising posted on October 5th and another on October 12th are spot on and anyone involved in marketing has probably already experienced the lessons learned by political scientists studying the ineffectiveness of campaign advertising:

  1. Campaign ads matter more when a candidate is unfamiliar.
  2. Campaign ads matter more when a candidate can outspend.
  3. Campaign ads can matter but not for long.
  4. Negative ads work, except when they don’t.
  5. Campaign ads don’t really affect turnout.
  6. There is no secret sauce.  Really.

As Sides notes (click here for part 1 and here for part 2,) much of what goes into modern campaign advertising is largely futile despite the anecdotal hunches of old-school campaign strategists.

Studies show the same is true for any kind of advertising, especially those using outdoor billboards in which case any business brand using them is sure to alienate  seven or more times the number of people who may utilize the messages they contain.

Today, there are simply far too many other significantly more effective marketing alternatives to being sucked in by those obsessed with what is often characterized as “Tarzan or ego-marketing.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Developer Character

I ran across two examples last week that illustrate how developers can either imbue sense of place or desecrate it.

A community’s unique sense of place is about the distinct weave of the “built” (man-made,) “natural”, “cultural” and “value” (temporal personality traits) characteristics that compose its character.Open Durham

These elements are often referred to as “place-based assets.”  To thrive, the “built or man-made” element must live in harmony with and complement the “natural” and “cultural.”  This requires developers who honor, respect and, in the words of Dr. Scott Russell Sanders, “long to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…”

Now for my two examples, both in my adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina, a community with both an incredible and scientifically well-documented sense of community pride and a distinct sense of place:

  • First, an illustration of both the fragility and vulnerability of that sense of place.  Reminded to remove some vacated houses, a developer has also deforested an entire hillside along Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd between SW Durham Blvd and Mt. Moriah Road, denuding it of any aesthetic value as well as carbon sequestration, run-off prevention, pollution removal as well as lowering future rental rates and property values.

There is certain to be some finger-pointing over codes and buffers but hopefully, state and local ordinances will be updated to value trees as more than just pulp and incentivize compensatory urban reforestation including large specimen replacements in both the public interest and as good economics and property stewardship.

  • Now for an example of a developer who understands and reveres and contributes to sense of place:  Gary Kueber not only heads Scientific Properties and specializes in adaptive reuse of historic buildings but in his spare time posts thousands of historic photographs of buildings along with well-researched background information about related people, places and neighborhoods on a blog titled Endangered Durham.

Gary, a former physician-turned-urban-planner-turned developer has created and launched a new website called Open Durham which not only organizes but also inventories and maps all that he did in Endangered Durham plus he permits others with similar interests and concerns to create and add content.

Being a developer isn’t easy, I’m sure.  I’m also certain that regulations and ordinances can always be improved and streamlined.  But gutting them as Republican majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the NC General Assembly are trying to do with hundreds of votes in the past year is not only reckless, it is stupid economically.

Developers must accept the fact that people don’t just buy homes and rent offices.  They live and work in the communities and neighborhoods where developments exist and at the very essence, they also “long to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…”

It isn’t the laws that protect water, air and forestation that should be eliminated, it is developers who won’t respect them.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Heart and Soul of Sense of Place

I’m very intimate with a part of what still makes North Carolina very special.  There is nothing like experiencing the the back roads that begin just few minutes from my house, especially astride a Harley-Davidson Cross Bones.Central Park

To lose this part of our state’s character, stretching across its heart from Durham to Charlotte would be to lose its soul.

So it is heartening to see the evolution of Central Park NC, a collaboration stretching across eight counties in this region, centered around the Uwharrie National Forest and the lakes and hills of the the lower part of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River watershed and basin.

Celebrating its 18th year at an annual gathering next week in Star, North Carolina, a tiny town famed as the exact geographic center of the state, Central Park NC is a valiant economic-development-driven effort to preserve the natural, cultural and small town character of North Carolina through small-business development including tourism.

The area is framed by a crescent of metro areas anchored from Charlotte to Winston-Salem to Greensboro to Durham to Raleigh and Fayetteville.  Each of these distinct and successful urban areas rely on the success of Central Park NC to preserve, conserve and sustain the rural and scenic character and unique sense of place upon which their evolution has been built.

Star is midway between Durham and Charlotte and a good reason to take the 150 miles of back roads in either direction on any future trip and use the legend on the right to populate the map at this link to identify places to stop and enjoy some of the unique features along the way.  You’ll be helping to preserve a part of North Carolina’s unique sense of place.

The journey will also renew the senses and restore an awareness and humility about our role as stewards for this incredible state and, will hopefully revive in each of us a renewed determination to clean up the blight and pollution our arrogance has caused.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Infographic–Death Penalty

Death Penalty

(click on image to see full infographic)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Infographic: Natural Disasters


Friday, October 14, 2011

“Power Without Love Is Reckless And Abusive”

Memories have a way of reweaving themselves so until recently all I recalled about standing on a roof-top balcony in the foothills of Altadena, California on the evening of April 4, 1968 was watching as nearby South Pasadena was set ablaze below in both anger and anguish over the cold-blooded murder a few hours earlier of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Having essential tremor in both hands, it has always been nearly impossible for me to keep a journal so my memories are often refreshed by scraps of mementos I’ve kept. I was reminded of one recently when my daughter and only child, a single-mom-healthcare lawyer, shared a poignant quote about power and love from a speech King delivered seven months prior to his death:

“…one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites - polar opposites so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.

…What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.

Deepening my memory of the night King was assassinated is an autobiographical sketch among my scraps that I penned just 48 months after that night as required by one of several senior college theses. It documents an epiphany I had on that rooftop.

Still just 19 years old at the time, the cheers and taunts I had heard on the still-segregated streets that day brought about an apostasy as I watched the flames that night, a self-imposed excommunication from my ultra-conservative-Republican and seemingly racist upbringing in the upper Intermountain West as well as eventual alienation from my religious heritage.

Two decades removed from that rooftop epiphany, when I arrived in North Carolina to help jump-start the organization purposed to tell Durham’s story, I hadn’t yet heard the C.P. Ellis part of that story which was documented a few years later, first in a 1992 book about race by Studs Terkel and then in the 1996 The Best of Enemies by Osha Gray Davidson before Ellis passed away in 2005.

During my first business road trip through North Carolina, I was annoyed by Raleigh-centric-directions to Pinehurst that took me me far out of my way rather than the much more direct route south from Durham; and I was startled as I passed Sanford, North Carolina to see an official state highway sign welcoming me to the home of the head of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK.)The Best of Enemies

Just a decade before my arrival in Durham, C.P. Ellis had undergone a conversion of beliefs while head of the KKK here and turned in his keys to the local Klavern. Americans love conversion narratives and Mr. Ellis’s transformation from head of the KKK to working with Ann Atwater, an African-American activist to desegregate schools here is emblematic of many that are part of the remarkable Durham story.

A year after I arrived in Durham, the ultra-conservative United States Senator Jesse Helms, who had been a dedicated Raleigh pro-segregationist ran for re-election against Harvey Gantt, the African-American architect and former Mayor of Charlotte.

Two decades ago, from the vantage point of an already progressive and diverse Durham, it seemed that most North Carolinians hoped Helms had mellowed from the days of his nightly racist rants on a Raleigh TV station on a segment called “Viewpoint.” During one broadcast he called the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced in the Congress.”

Asked later to explain, Senator Helms provided insight into how some people seem to construe the Constitutional provision granting equal rights as a “zero-sum” proposition. He justified his opposition with the view that the law was somehow taking rights from one group and giving them to another.

However, as the 1990 campaign demonstrated, Helms had not mellowed. When the race drew even closer during the final weeks, Helms launched the infamous and misleading “Hands” campaign ad overtly playing on the same fears he had more overtly used to help fuel KKK membership in the State during the 1960s including 112 chapters and approximately 9,000 members according to reformed former Exalted Cyclops C.P. Ellis.

I was reminded of Helms efforts to encourage homophobia when recently our Republican-dominated legislature placed a constitutional amendment on the “primary-election” ballot for next spring, probably hoping the lower turnout will ensure denial of the right to civil unions for same-sex couples.

Reflecting the humiliation so many North Carolinians feel about this proposed amendment, I’m reminded of a clipping among my mementos. It is an op-ed published by acclaimed-author Allan Gurganus the morning after the racially-charged “Hands” ads had helped Helms defeat Gantt in 1990.

As a metaphor for the election, Gurganus uses the story of North Carolina’s famed Siamese-twins, P.T. Barnum stars, Chang and Eng Bunker:

“One twin, Eng, was by nature temperate and
Christian and chess-loving; the other, Chang, proved
iII-tempered, raving, something of a self-destructive

The mild twin daily endured the selfishness
and tantrums of a grouchy brother affixed to him by
a band of flesh and a mutual liver. This liver, after
decades of drunkard's abuse, became diseased. One
night, aged 63, Chang, the hard-living brother, died;
a doctor was summoned to finally separate the twins.

Before he arrived, Eng, the generous and thoughtful
survivor, opened his eyes, was told what had
happened, and died of fright. His independent heart
stopped because he found himself attached to a
corpse who had, via stubborn selfish vices, a life of
un-charity, committed suicide.

Now, imagine that the good brother constituted
only 35 percent of the total body weight of these fused
twins. In their annexed prime, imagine how he felt to
wake daily, to look directly at the person so nearby,
the death-loving 65 percent he knew would kill him,
against his will. Chang, violent and suspicious, was
greedily dying of pure hatefulness, of fear, and
without quite knowing why himself.

Chang hated what he called "outsiders"; but his own gentle
brother, as attached to him as anyone can ever be
attached, was he an outsider, too?

That's how I feel this morning. The phone keeps
ringing; the notes will soon arrive. Friends know I've
let myself hope I might bring my large, violent,
life-loathing brother to his senses. I hoped to save
both him, and incidentally, save me, save us. - I
have failed. Our state has.

I wake before my brother does and I look over at
him, snoring so close beside me, and I say, "Why?
Why? Why do you hate our life so much? What is it
you're so afraid of?"

As voters assess the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil unions, hopefully they will consider the following words of Dr. King’s widow, the late Coretta Scott King:313571_2490277015695_1215829102_33023763_466662985_n

• “I believe all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation.

• I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’

• I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.

• Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood. This sets the stage for further repression and violence that spread all too easily to victimize the next minority group.

• Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Questions To Challenge “Groupthink”

I’m sure a lot of meetings are not only much shorter but maybe even a lot more boring now that I’m retired from a nearly four-decade-long career managing community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs.)

People called me a lot of things during my career and couple of groups even blackballed me, but that I know of, no one ever labeled me as being disengaged or apathetic or dispassionate.  Growing up, I was strongly encouraged to have opinions but then always required to be able to defend them.  If I ever did try to just “go along” my parents would change sides on me.

Long before adolescence I was well-schooled as a “devil’s advocate.”  “Going along just to get along” was just never an option.

Meetings are always meant to be collaborative, otherwise a simple email would suffice.  But during my working years, I was always puzzled by how many people would arrive and depart without saying a word, other than socializing during the breaks or before and after the meeting.

Asked for input they would sit stone silent, whenever someone else did speak up, their heads merely pivoted back and forth as if watching a tennis match. Rarely did even an imperceptible nod of the head or glint in of the eye betray what they were thinking.  Asked to vote, they waited until it was clear which way the majority would go.

They were probably victims of abuse by overexposure to groups whose members are controlled from within through “groupthink,” where dissent was censored, criticism rejected or rationalized and opposing beliefs demonized.

Coined in the 1950s, “groupthink” is a condition that was thoroughly scrutinized and tested when I was in college by research psychologist Dr. Irving Janis, an expert in group dynamics, who passed away in 1990, months after I arrived in Durham for my final DMO assignment.

In my experience, successfully inoculating or recovering an organization or group from groupthink doesn’t require tolerating gadflies or interference from special interests during meetings or even interminably extending them through incessant recycling of discussions which were already resolved.

The best and simplest preventative is to adopt “information or data-based decision-making” or as Janis termed it, simply seeking “outside input.”  TED 2011 speaker, self-proclaimed “wrongoligist” and author of a blog entitled The Wrong Stuff – What It Means To Makes Mistakes, Kathryn Schultz writes that “groupthink” arises from what she calls “disagreement deficit” created by:

  • “disproportionate exposure to support for our beliefs
  • underexposure to the opposition
  • a tendency to discount opposition even if encountered and,
  • suppression of doubt or difference of opinion within”

Schultz goes on to explain in her book that “sometimes the suppression is subtle, or even self-imposed – just an instinctive shying away from anything that could disturb a group to which we are loyal, or disrupt the materials and psychological infrastructure of our lives...Self-censorship.”  She notes research showing “groupthink” can occur in groups as small as three members.

Groups often form around certainty of mission and unless informed by information/data-driven decision-making, they become dominated from within through actions referenced in a series of essays edited in 1936 by experimental psychologist Dr. Joseph Jastrow entitled The Story of Human Error.

They involve violence, though rarely physical.  Far more effective today is violence to reputation or friendships or principles or ethics, often involving exile or ostracizing.  As the saying goes, “who needs good ideas when you can all agree on a bad one.”

Here are a handful of questions to ask if you sense a meeting you’re attending is grid-locked by or in danger of groupthink:

  • How do you know that?
  • What information do you have to support that belief?
  • What would the opposition say to that?
  • Why would otherwise reasonable people believe differently?
  • Are we telling ourselves a story?
  • Can we invite other viewpoints to the next meeting?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

“Our Most Redeeming And Humane Quality”

I find it puzzling that people frequently want to quibble about the value of “empathy,” especially, it seems, when conservatives, whose linguists have not yet been able to put an Orwellian-like spin on the term, try to confuse moderates such as me much as they did not long ago with the term “compassionate.”

Over the last twelve days, I’ve read and re-read a New York Times op-ed trying to learn why it seemed the author, whom I greatly admire and read regularly, was trying so hard to dismiss the term “empathy.” I even waded again through the paper by Dr. Jesse Prinz, whom I once heard lecture in Durham when he came up from Chapel Hill to speak here at the National Humanities Center.

According to Prinz, the term “empathy” has only been in use for the last 100 years or so which is probably why so many wanted to quibble when historian Dr. Doris Kearns Goodwin listed it as one of emotional strengths of President Abraham Lincoln in a paper titled The True Lincoln.

The paper was published a few months prior to her book Team of Rivals which is currently being made into a movie by Stephen Spielberg but not for release until after next year’s Presidential election. So much for so-called liberal conspiracies!

Dr. Goodwin cites as just one indication of Lincoln’s “empathy” by citing words from his second Inaugural speech where he empathizes with Southerners during the American Civil War and she says where he notes that “the sin of slavery is shared by North and South… Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other…let us judge not that we be not judged.”

Can you ever imagine such words coming from the mouths of those have overtaken Lincoln’s party today, even just out of respect for President Barak Obama to whom Lincoln means so much?

Other emotional strengths of Lincoln that are pointed out in Goodwin’s article (give the link time to open)include: “humor,” “magnanimity,” “generosity of spirit,” “perspective,” “self-control,” “sense of balance,” and “social conscience,” all in short supply among many politicians today, especially on the Right.

In her incredible and humorous new book Being Wrong – Adventures In The Margin of Error, Kathryn Schultz writes that “imagination” which is “what enables us to conceive of and enjoy stories other than our own,” and “empathy” which is “the act of taking other people’s stories seriously” are “our most redeeming and humane qualities.”

“Certainty deadens and destroys both qualities,” Schultz continues, “when we are caught up in our own convictions, other people’s stories – which is to say, other people – cease to matter to us. This happens on the scale of history…but it also happens to each of us as individuals.”

No one felt stronger than Lincoln about the importance of keeping the word “united” in United States of America, but he was able to prevent that certainty from being what Schultz terms “toxic to a shift in a perspective.”

And to me the ability to shift perspective is what makes “empathy” so powerful and so essential to a “code you can live by,” regardless of worldview or ideology.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mounting Evidence of the Value of Urban Trees

Researchers in the Pacific Northwest have quantified the importance of urban street trees on rental values using Craigslist apartment listings in Portland, Oregon and tree data from Google Earth.

“Each tree on a house’s lot increases monthly rent by $5.62 and a tree in the public right of way increased rent by $21.00.”

One of the researchers, economist Geoffrey Donovan of the U.S. Forest Service had already linked the presence of urban trees to lower crime rates (particularly large, mature trees,) healthier newborns, energy conservation and pollution control as well as an an average $8,900 increase in the sales price for property. Sometimes the benefits accrue even if the trees are next door.

The linkages hold true even when the researchers control for other factors that determine a neighborhood’s desirability. Other researchers with the Federal Highway Administration have also been able to quantify the value of roadside trees along the National Highway System.

Portland, Oregon, where the study was conducted, has a 26% urban tree canopy remaining but hopes to increase it to 33% by planting 415,000 trees.

While some areas of the country strive to increase their urban tree canopy, other areas are seeing significant decreases in theirs. For example, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina including Charlotte, the state’s largest city conducted a study through American Forests to quantify the value of its remaining 51% of urban tree canopy, a full third of which has been lost since 1993.

The tree canopy in Wake County, North Carolina’s second largest and home to the state capital Raleigh has been reduced to 44% tree cover even though its land area is two to three times the size of counties at other points of the broad Research Triangle Area.

Still fifty-one-percent forested and above average for urban areas in North Carolina, nearby Durham County was fortunate to limit loss to its tree canopy to 2% while growing another 20% in population over the past decade.

Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Durham County is the 17th smallest land area in the state, while the 6th most populous. Additionally, Durham County is even more compact because more than a third of the land area has been set aside in low-density watershed even though the County is host to the City of Durham, the fifth most populous urban area.

Indeed, Durham is well deserving of the moniker: “The City of Trees,” a place where activists conduct “Tree Camps” and Duke Professor Will Wilson has published a new primer on urban environments and an Durham Tree Alliance is under development.

Ironically, as North Carolina’s urban cities and counties are catching on to the value of tree canopy, the State General Assembly, under new ownership is apparently eager to reclaim the state’s once-fading reputation as backward by authorizing massive clear cutting along roadsides, not to make what remains of the state’s vaunted scenery more apparent but as a public gratuity to the 8,000 outdoor billboards.

Hopefully, sometime within the next 87 months before the 100th anniversary of his passing, voters of every ideology will rededicate America to a great Republican’s object of deep spiritual significance.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Need to Burn Each Other at the Stake

The excellent investigative report State for Sale, published last week, reminded me of when I first learned of the now forty-year-old then-confidential playbook for the take-over strategy described in the report ( you may need to wait for a moment at the acrobat screen before it opens.)

I was briefed on the playbook while attending law school at night and working days at a chamber of commerce out west during a 29-month stint during which I was helping to shape and launch a free-standing community/destination marketing organization (DMO.)

No one at work asked, they just just assumed everyone was a Republican even though business people were evenly divided by party-affiliation, as they still are today. This is similar to the ego-centrism among Carolina fans today who assume everyone in Durham is a Tar Heel fan, even though scientific polls show most people here root for the home teams, Duke and NCCU.

The secretive memo/playbook had been written a couple of years before I learned about it in 1974 and, as any law school student would, I immediately recognized the author as Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. who wrote it just weeks before being appointed by President Nixon and confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Powell was already famous as the Justice appointed to replace the legendary Hugo Black who during his lifetime evolved from a young Alabama Ku Klux Klan member to an outspoken center-liberal defender of free speech, separation of church and state, etc.

Like Black, during his time as a Supreme Court Justice, Powell moved much more to the center than he had been in private practice as a corporate attorney or as expressed in his pre-court, 1971 memo/Republican playbook. In retirement, Powell even expressed some regret for some of his more conservative opinions on the Court.

His memo/playbook foretold the formula described last week in the State for Sale and being perverted in several other places across the nation to control or purge public institutions:

  • fund think tanks, scholarly works and op-eds
  • flood the news media with columns and op-eds
  • attack higher ed. to undermine liberals (and moderates)
  • reverse policy in local schools
  • intervene in court cases
  • directly use business funds to finance political campaigns etc.

The playbook eventually fell into the hands of wealthy ultra-conservatives who deployed it, in the extreme, first to purge their own Republican Party of moderates and liberals and then stigmatize any other viewpoint or ideology as liberal and socialist including the swollen ranks of Independents, often through financing extremely negative, hostile and distorting campaign attack-ads while claiming to be the defenders of morality.

Except that through the hubris of power and money and what is described as a condition called “confabulation” in books such as Brain Fiction and the more recent and humorous Being Wrong – Adventures in the Margin of Error, their “rock-like certitude” convinces them that these distortions and lies are fact.

Confabulation has enabled ultra-conservatives, recently, to absurdly proclaim with a straight face that Mitt Romney isn’t a Christian because he belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (Mormons) or that the Bill of Rights does not apply to non-Christians.

The rigors of succeeding in business transform a few to become like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or many closer to home such as Jim Goodmon. But many emerge not only successful and wealthy but entitled and retaining a huge “chip on their shoulder” feeling marginalized, angry, hurt and judgmental.

Rather than humbled by just how much “luck” is also required to succeed in business, they emerge blinded to the public services and infrastructure that under-pinned their success while, at the same time, seeming far too often disdainful and judgmental of the customers upon whose exchanges their success was built.

Turning away from philanthropy, they seem locked into a self-proclaimed Jihad against the minimum wage, environmental protection, consumer, voter and civil rights, immigration, education, social safety-nets and much more only to learn that inherently fragmented moderates and liberals are easy prey and not their polar opposite at all but only midway along an ideological “ring” where the seeming opposite ends of of ultra-conservatism and Marxism rest side by side, separated only by Totalitarianism.

Seemingly ensnared in a perpetual closed-loop of inductive confirmation bias and rock-jawed homophily, some often resemble more the abused child than either part of ideological typology offered by linguists where conservatives are the strict, authoritative father and liberals are the nurturant mother.

When the pendulum of power swings back again, and it always does, hopefully we can all put an accepting and inclusive arm around the shoulders of those who are currently wreaking so much havoc in the name of morality and remember together the words of poet Mark Nepo in the book entitled Facing the Lion, Being the Lion -- Finding Your Inner Courage that:

“…as we grow, we often start to perch alongside of life, watching while leaning on the rail of whatever values we were taught to uphold. Before we know it, we become cold messengers whose message is muted because of our detachment.

…Compassionate justice is rarely just about right or wrong, but more about our courage to see and embrace the fallen part in others as the humanness in ourselves. This does not preclude holding ourselves and others accountable for the moments of trespass we engender.

Rather, compassion deepens our response to such trespass, demanding that we lean into what went wrong- together. The recognition of trespass with honesty is often more helpful than unconsidered judgment that exiles the fallibility of being human.

Unconsidered and unfelt judgment often provides a way to remove ourselves from people and situations.

When we feel justified judging others, we give ourselves permission not to stay involved…This is the hard gift of compassion, that it allows us to stay involved in a meaningful way with the living. It allows us to respond to the splendor and messiness in life.”

…Ultimately, the urge to hush our anxiety is not the same as facing it. Ultimately, creating noise or a list of good deeds won’t keep us from ourselves or the fact that time is precious and that life will end. Isn’t this at the heart of our noisy obsessions with fame and crisis? Isn’t it all a way to feel important and needed?

In running from the basic questions of living haven’t we become a society of firefighters whose identity of goodness so rests on putting out fires that we never face our secret life as arsonists?

Nevertheless, whatever situations we are left to mend, we all face the ache…and the challenge of being led by our compassion and not our anxiety. Otherwise, we risk becoming all that we abhor. And if we keep setting fires with our judgment and putting them out with out with our guilt, the face of humanity will be scorched.

This is the cost of our busy need to save each other and our righteous need to burn each other at the stake.

These dilemmas – of turning judgment into compassion, of letting vengeance disperse into forgiveness, of sinking below the noise of our anxiety till we can take pain out of the mind – these quandaries are ageless.

…our endless dream of having the courage to face our judgment, our vengeance, our anxiety, our resentments and live with them.”

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Infographic: And Then There Were Four

Saturday, October 08, 2011



Friday, October 07, 2011

15 Favorite Guitarists

One of my good friends and fellow bloggers, Bill Geist is also a former radio Deejay.  I look forward each week to his “Music Fridays” posts.

I thought of Bill when I spotted a headline earlier this week on the website for Rolling Stone Magazine about the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.  But before opening that link I couldn’t help but try first to come up some of my favorites.

So here are 15 of my favorites, in no particular order, but spanning some of the many genres, ages, genders, ethnicities and decades included in my eclectic taste in music:

Keith Richards – Start Me Up

Carlos Santana – Black Magic Woman

George Harrison - I Feel Fine

B.B. King – The Thrill Is Gone

Bonnie Raitt – Love Me Like A Man

Vince Gill – How Great Thou Art

Jerry Garcia – Teach Your Children

Santos Farina – Sleep Walk

Eric Clapton – Layla

Jimi Hendrix – Star Spangled Banner

Ruby Jane Smith – Beautiful You, Happy Me

Duane Eddy – Rebel-rouser

Henry Garza – Heaven

Tatyana Ryzhkova - JS Bach Sonata

George Benson – The Shadow of Your Smile

Oh, and if you’re not inclined to open the link to Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest, here is how they ranked the 15 above (remember, I didn’t order mine):  Richards #10, Santana #15, Harrison #21, B.B. King #3 Clapton #4, Jerry Garcia #13 and Jimi Hendrix #1.

Something tells me that eclectic wasn’t a part of their evaluation.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Diminishing Social Trust and America’s Failure To Thrive

I have a friend who lives in perpetual disdain of data, probably even more so now that Brad Pitt has made statistics sexy.

While friendly on a personal level, he is at the same time publicly dismissive of people in my now concluded career of community/destination marketing because they are “paid” to convey information about their communities. My friend probably hasn’t kept up with the latest research about motivation and drive.

He’s an old-schooler, and unfortunately, from what I remember from a few destination marketing organization (DMO) execs past and present, my friend has probably come by his cynicism honestly.  For instance, years ago I knew a DMO exec with hubris enough to believe he was entitled to make up statistics out of thin air just because he was the so-called tourism expert in his community.Trust

As a whole, DMO execs are far more driven to make a difference and by a sense of purpose than they are financial incentives. But then again, maybe my friend’s exposure has been primarily to those in sales, whom the research shows can be the most vulnerable to unethical choices.

Statistics themselves don’t lie, but often people do.

A friend of mine in talk radio asked me how I knew that Durham had a level of passion, engagement and pride among its residents that is two to three times greater than other communities including those nearby that are held in seemingly high self-regard.

When I responded that it is benchmarked by scientific surveys, he quipped, “I’m glad we have them to tell us what we think.”  He’s obviously in the anecdote business and  I didn’t get an opportunity to explain to him that the anecdotes he enlists in his line of work are useless bases for decision-making unless they can be shown to be generalizable to an entire population.

Unfortunately, far too many news reports and news analyses are now the result of reporters interviewing reporters, heaping anecdote upon anecdote as though they will become reliable by sheer weight.  A fool-proof way to spot someone trapped in their own anecdotes is when someone responds to scientific research findings with a comment like, “well that’s not what I think.”

Uhhhh, ooookay!

Increasingly we hear interviewees on the news, including people seeking elected office, who indicate that individually they have queried tons of people across this state or this nation or even at a conference they attended to then bulwark their opinions.  The problem is that unless the sample was random and large enough, it is still just anecdotal and just their opinion, regardless of their personal expertise or experience.

We frequently hear how untrustworthy the news media is but surveys shows that the news media, especially at the local level, I mean truly local, not just 30,000 feet, is far more trusted (69%) than candidates running for office (29%.)  We hear how untrustworthy the federal government is at (44%) from Republicans but trust in business, a source of much of their campaign financing, is worse (41%.)

Another poll just released by 60 Minutes shows that overall more Americans trust journalists (76%) than politicians (6%.)  By 7 to 1 even Conservatives trust journalists more than politicians although they fall behind Moderates who trust journalists over politicians by 13 to 1 and Liberals trust journalists over politicians by 30 to 1.

A year ago, a survey benchmarked “social trust,” which was defined as “faith in people” or the honesty, integrity and reliability of others.  It came up with a “social trust index” based on how those surveyed responded when asked about who they trust, who they did not trust, who might take advantage of them, who is likely to be helpful or just looking out for themselves.

American adults scored 35% with high trust, 22% mid and 38% low.  Blacks and Hispanics had much higher levels of mistrust that whites.  Young people had higher levels of mistrust than older people, singles more mistrust than married people, lower income more mistrust than higher income, city dwellers more than rural dwellers, high school grads more than college grads, struggling classes more than professionals, non-military more than active military or veterans, non-voters more than voters.

People in the south had higher levels of social mistrust than in the northeast.  Moderates, Independents and Liberals scored more mistrustful than Conservatives.

However, it appears from another study that the ultra-conservative fundamentalists who are purging the Republican Party are negatively associated with social trust.  The authors of American Grace note that:

“Fundamentalist religious views are negatively associated with social trust…Social trust increases with religious attendance but decreases with fundamentalism…Religious liberals more often experience a loving God, and they are among the most socially trusting of Americans, whereas religious conservatives more often experience a judgmental God, and they are among the least trusting of Americans, especially if they are not observant.

For highly observant fundamentalist Americans, their theology inclines them toward skepticism about human nature but their frequent attendance somehow move them to a more optimistic view.”

This is the group that, although a small sliver of society, has monopolized news coverage for the last two years.  They want smaller government because they don’t trust government.  They seem callous to helping people because they fear these folks will take advantage.  They resist compromise because they don’t trust in win/win solutions.

These folks don’t just preach decline today.  They’ve preached decline since before the country was founded.    Like more than 90% of Americans, they believe in God but a judgmental God.  They are steeped in conspiracies and self-fulfilling prophesies.

They vote to cut funding for food inspection, environmental protection, pre-school education.  They are obsessed with “cut, cut, cut” at exactly t he worst time in the economic cycle.

A recent op-ed likened the excuse given by one of the 12 Republicans who voted against the most recent agreement to break a government stalemate to protest against dysfunction calling it “a little like protesting the slowness of rush-hour traffic by abandoning your car in the center lane.”

Maybe the fallacy of that official’s rationalization is also what’s at the heart of what one Conservative commentator means when he warns that “Segmented societies do not thrive, nor do ones, like ours, with diminishing social trust.”

“Without such trust, writes Mark Nepo in his book Finding Inner Courage, “we can turn blunt and cruel.”

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Serendipity of Career Choice

Serendipity is the answer I give when young people ask me how I found my way into my passionate now-concluded nearly-four-decade-long career in community/destination marketing organizations (DMOs.)

My career serendipitously began while standing in a hallway in January 1970.  I had just begun a job as conference coordinator in what was then the fledgling BYU Office of Tours and Conferences and I planned to work my way through my last two and a half years of college by doing things like coordinating the President’s Box at Cougar Stadium, organizing campus tours for dignitaries and parents, and facilitating summer youth conferences etc.

Today these are now major activities at many universities but they were just starting to percolate back then.  As if that first job in destination marketing wasn’t serendipitous enough for a history/political science/pre-law major, while in that hallway I listened in on a class that I would go on to informally audit.

It was a course by Dr. Bill Dyer in his just-inaugurated Department of Organizational Behavior then in the business college and now integrated into the Marriott School of Management.

One of Dr. Dyer’s first instructors at the time was the now legendary Stephen R. Covey, who two decades later went on to author what has been rated the #1 most influential business book of the twentieth century, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, published just as I arrived in Durham to begin the third and final leg of my career by jump-start the community DMO here.

Dyer was one of a handful of pioneers then integrating social psychology and quantitative research and other disciplines into the study of organizational development, evolution, culture and management.  Besides Covey, other progeny of Dyer include the authors of best-sellers such as Crucial Confrontations, Crucial Conversations, Influencer and most recently Change Anything.

His program at BYU, as well as the ones at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, proved to be a quantum leap from the late 17th century Tayorism which still entraps the vast majority of workplaces as well as public education today.  The leap was a tribute to Lillian Moller Gilbreth, the nation’s first true industrial/organizational psychologist, who passed away two years to the month after I stood outside one of Dyer’s classrooms.

It would be another four or five years before I would move from a study of the law to a life-long career in community/destination marketing management in which I would become one of the very first DMO execs to fully embrace organizational behavior and specialists such as those I saw being trained in Dyer’s fledgling program.

Very early in my career, already aware of both my deficits and strengths as an executive, I began to supplement both my evolution as an organizational leader and manager and the various teams and organizations I led by enlisting analysis and insight over the years from RHR International (Rohrer, Hibler and Replogle,) the late Dr. Donald Clifton (now known as the Clifton Strengths School,)  occupational consultants from Duke University and Performance Management Inc.

While I can trace my eventual career to when I just happened to be standing outside that classroom, organizational development is just one of several, huge, game-changing developments and innovations that evolved during my career including:

  • Office equipment such as copiers, scanners, fax machines, word processors, computers, cellular telephony, image banks, VHS, CD/DVD, paperless offices etc.
  • Software from computers to networks and now tens of thousands of apps etc.
  • The Internet including websites, search engines, digital maps, GPS, GIS etc.

For a window into the workplace of the future, I recommend reading:

If I were to name one book I wish had been available during my career and that will fuel the success of anyone now beginning a career in any field as well as anyone who wants to improve parenting skills, it would be Crucial Confrontations – Tools For Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations and Bad Behavior by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Al Switzler, Ron McMillan and David Maxwell.

As for career advice, you can’t beat serendipity!  So start as early as possible to pay attention to what intrinsically intrigues you and gives you a sense of purpose and contribution.