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Saturday, March 31, 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
He was midway through his 10-year tenure on the RDU Airport Authority when I met second-generation Raleigh-native and developer Smedes York in 1990. At 6’ 5”, the former Mayor of Raleigh and NCSU basketball player wasn’t hard to miss.
I remember how warmly he wished me well just six months into my challenge to jump-start Durham, North Carolina’s first community marketing organization destined within just a few years to help fuel the largest market share of visitors drawn through the airport.
Aided by research, I’m able to recall how Smedes led the charge just about the time of my arrival in Durham 23 years ago, to create dramatic landscaped entries to the jointly-owned airport that cement spectacular first and last impressions of North Carolina for travelers as well as for the co-owner communities of Durham and Wake counties and the cities of Durham and Raleigh.
The Authority governing the airport, which is located midway between Durham and Raleigh, has been served through the years by a grandfather-father-son legacy of construction-developers who understood the importance of appearance, none more than Durham native Robb Teer, currently immediate past chair and his famous grandfather, the late Nello Teer, whose company laid the airports runways in 1939.
Smedes’ father Willie, who immediately preceded him on the Airport Authority, famously led the charge to remove all outdoor billboards on airport property. More than a decade earlier during a stint as head of the state agency overseeing tourism and economic development he had learned that billboards were a blight on trees and other elements of North Carolina’s sense of place and attractiveness for economic development.
Top American Airlines executives flying in to place a then-hub at RDU a few years before I arrived had emphatically reinforced the importance of trees as central to North Carolina’s unique scenic character and economic development potential when they met Smedes and recently-retired airport director John Brantley, both engineers by training.
This was also not lost on Durham officials who had already enacted a communitywide ban on outdoor billboards and were in the process of creating a best-practice overlay to protect the tree-lined visual character of a span of I 40, which was nearing completion, as it leads through their community to and from the airport which is immediately east of Durham.
In 1987, less than two dozen months before my arrival, RDU officials saw the reaction to some modest plantings placed at exits to and from the airport in advance of a US Olympic Festival co-hosted by surrounding cities and counties, so the Authority used funds of its own to add spectacular landscaped hills and dales to the FAA-funded creation and rerouting of roadways and bridges leading into and through the airport.
RDU followed a best-practice landscaping plan created locally and overseen by Willie Hood, a principle at Jerry Turner & Associates, and his associate and JTA VP Lynda Harris and they extended the landscaping to parking areas as well.
To make it all possible, control of the area was passed by NCDOT to RDU and then back during a time when my friend, the legendary Bill Johnson was State Roadside Environmental Engineer and also creating North Carolina’s award-winning scenic byway and wildflower programs.
The result is arguably the most dramatic gateway impression made by any airport in the world, something unfortunately lost today on NCDOT and the way it maintains the other gateways that carry the more than 80% of travelers who arrive and depart the state via highways.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
One of my interest-based passions in retirement is family archeology. While I’m often seen in a tattered leather flight jacket, I’m no Indiana Jones, although I confess to being intrigued by Durham’s more than 700 archeological sites identified on the top-secret state inventory.
My interest in archaeology involves the close study of family artifacts including documents and photographs to help me piece together family histories, something that has always intrigued me but is now further inspired by two young grandsons, one of whom expresses similar interests at age eight.
My father, who passed away suddenly at age 77 just weeks after 9/11, was famously brief with family and personal details although he recognized my interests as early as age four. Kids my age were fascinated by WWII, often playing “army” with artifacts brought back by many of our fathers less than a decade before.
But other than humoring me by letting me frequently examine a knife given to him by a liberated Russian POW or a JP Sauer pistol confiscated from a captured German officer or an array of foreign coins and currency he kept in a yellowed plastic case intended to keep a pack of cigarettes dry, my father was famously stingy with details.
He would only say that he got there as the War ended and did everything he could to get back home as soon as possible. But a box I received from his second wife, Margaret, included not only his Bible but a treasure trove of other miscellaneous documents including a certificate listing eight books he had read and reported on in 7th grade.
One of those documents, a one-page, two-sided form entitled “Enlisted Record And Report of Separation Honorable Discharge” suddenly brought a spike of emotion as I saw his right thumb print. Coupled with information contained in several letters he had written home to his older sister and then relayed to me by a cousin, his time overseas came into sharper detail.
He was assigned to a Cavalry Squadron of the 35th Tank Battalion of the vanguard 4th Armored Division of U.S. Third Army headed by General George Patton who died later from injuries sustained in a car accident. Famous for helping to liberate Bastogne earlier that year during the Battle of the Bulge, when my father arrived, the 35th Tank Battalion was pulling back from the chunk of Czechoslovakia it had liberated after rushing across southern Germany at the war’s end.
Today we think of the culmination of WWII as tidy, when compared to the chaos that occurred when both Iraq and Afghanistan fell so suddenly, but that wasn’t the case. Documents reveal that we were just as unprepared when Germany surrendered.
Units such as the 35th Tank Battalion suddenly became police and border patrol while existing police weren’t trusted and prematurely disbanded at a time when individual Nazis were making a run for it through Austria and Switzerland to safe havens in places like Uruguay and Argentina. It was a zoo.
The 35th Tank Battalion including Cavalry morphed into the 35th Constabulary Squadron. With five officers and 155 enlisted men organized into five troops each organized much like the mechanized cavalry troop had been just weeks earlier as the war ended, but with individual weapons and mounted on horses, motorcycles or Jeeps.
One of Dad’s letters home refers to riding for days on horses liberated from the German SS, so it is possible that, with his ranching background, he rode for a time in one of several “horse platoons” that patrolled the otherwise inaccessible forests that rise from Bavaria up into the Alps.
If so, he would have carried his rifle in a "scabbard," like the ones we used on the ranch and he would have worn britches and cavalry boots. But I think he was mostly in the Jeep patrols of B Troop. He would have had an opportunity to be in a motorcycle troop as well but he wasn’t, as least based on what I have discovered so far. Curiously, my interest in motorcycles didn’t bloom until a decade after his passing.
I will only know more as I pursue more archaeology.
The Constabulary was also involved in processing prisoner-of-war exchanges with the Russians and riot control in refugee camps as Germans fled from Austria and other countries liberated from occupation. At the same time forces were dangerously depleted as soldiers were shipped home as quickly as possible.
Before things had really settled down, Dad was shipped home too, leaving a day and two years before I would be born. He had entered the Army at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, Utah and returned through Fort Lewis, midway between Olympia and Tacoma, Washington, details he had never mentioned even as he lived out the last several decades of his life just 50 miles north of there.
My Mom was just going on 17-years-of-age when he arrived back at the ranch. They had to become reacquainted over the year before they would start a family. He was asked to give up the habits of cigarettes and beer that he had learned in Europe and she had to re-acclimate from the life she had known living and working in Denver to the solitude of ranch life.
Piecing together my prehistory is something I not only enjoy but it affords me an opportunity to leave a richer understanding for generations to come.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Recently I made a quick road trip up I 85 from Durham where I live to Washington DC and back for an overnight visit with my daughter who was attending a legal conference there in her specialty field of healthcare law.
I was reminded how much a 60-mile stretch of that superhighway running from Lake Gaston to Petersburg, Virginia, resembles a wooded country lane.
Both the median and the roadside are continuously lined with towering mixed forests of deciduous and conifer trees, currently salt and peppered with flowering Dogwoods and Redbuds and separated from the roadway by only a gleaming strip of green turf.
At the crowns the trees begin to canopy the road. There are no billboards or other forms of blight. But the astuteness of that Virginia stretch goes far beyond aesthetics. The trees also intercept storm run-off, scrub the air of pollutants, moderate the climate and attract talent.
The sixty-mile stretch from Durham to the lake has only a few miles like that though because North Carolina has arrogantly clear cut the median of trees only to neglect or butcher roadside turf and has permitted billboards to line the roadsides.
The contrast is stark and it is about to get worse if billboard companies are permitted to follow through with plans to expand clear cutting of trees in swaths the size of a football field in either direction of each sign thereby further blighting the first and last impression of travelers to and through North Carolina.
Virginia certainly isn’t as perfect as that 60 mile stretch of I 85 promises. Downtown Richmond’s impressive skyline is virtually blocked by back to back billboards in both directions, some of which are trying to win back the billboard industry’s legacy reputation for “booze and butts.”
As someone who spent the last two decades of a my professional career defending and promoting North Carolina, it pains me to admit that overall Virginia clearly does a much better job of creating a good impression than my adopted home state and, thanks to a give-away of hundreds of thousands of publicly owned roadside trees by the last legislature, that gap will soon widen.
But I have a hunch that the 9 out 10 North Carolinians who object to the cutting of these roadside trees and the nearly 8 out of 10 who see billboards as a blight on our state will soon reverse this molestation and bring the state closer once again to delivering on its scenic brand promise.
Monday, March 26, 2012
I have participated in a zillion so-called brainstorming sessions in my life and I can't remember one that was very productive. Now I know why: They simply don't work!
In his concise piece seven weeks ago in The New Yorker magazine, Jonah Lehrer gave an excellent overview. He starts with a brief history about how the term was coined, coincidentally during the year I was born, by someone who was at the time about the age I am now and who wanted to share some perspective.
One of this gentleman's ground rules was the stipulation that brainstorming sessions must never include critical thinking, criticism or negative feedback. I've probably heard that a zillion times too.
Within 10 years though that idea was debunked by scientific research, yet it has persisted to this day. Lehrer summarizes research done as early as 1958 which found that people working solo came up with roughly twice as many solutions as did brainstorming groups, and the solo-generated ideas were judged more “feasible” and “effective.”
But the article is more about when and how creativity works well as a “group process.” The article is well worth reading and rereading, especially the part about what determines successful Broadway Musical productions, even though that genre is not among my favorites except, of course, for the occasional popular power ballad which is often spawned.
Lehrer is also the author of a great book out just this month entitled Imagine – How Creativity Works.
Last week as I was listening to an excellent interview by Krista Tippett while writing a blog about the difference between intensity and passion, another part of that article in The New Yorker crossed my mind. It dealt with a study which revealed that people who “debate and even criticize each other's ideas” during brainstorming sessions, are far more creative and generate “nearly twenty-percent more ideas.”
It turns out, based on many studies, that “imagination…thrives on conflict.” Lehrer quotes the author of one of the studies who claims, “There's this Pollyannish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is to stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone's feelings. Well that's just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive.”
Based on the article, I'm thinking that the problem in Congress and in many state legislatures today is not that there is too much partisan debate but too little. At the heart of so much dysfunction in those bodies is too little willingness to be exposed to contrary ideas and too little willingness to let them inform changes of opinion.
What if so-called “flip-flopping” is really a very positive ability to seek out and listen to differing opinions and then having the flexibility to let that moderate rather than harden previously-held conclusions. “Flip-flopping” as you know, is a characteristic for which both President Obama and hopeful Republican Party-nominee Mitt Romney are both criticized.
Krista Tippett's radio show On Being still doesn't appear to be carried by the public radio station of which I'm a sustainer, so while I'm working on blog posts I listen to podcasts or read transcripts delivered to me via e-mail , which is far more convenient anyway.
The interview a few days ago with Dr. Rex Jung was entitled Creativity and the Everyday Brain. Interestingly, Jung is a neuropsychologist researcher who studies both intelligence and creativity at the University of New Mexico-Albuquerque. His inspiration to venture from intelligence into creativity came from his work with the Special Olympics.
I was surprised during the interview to hear Jung also refer to Lehrer’s article in The New Yorker. Dr. Jung gives a great definition of intelligence as a “superhighway in the brain that allows you to get from point A to point B” and that “with creativity, it's a slower, more meandering process. We want to take the side roads and even the dirt roads to get there, to put the ideas together.”
People I often affectionately call list checkers hate to get off that superhighway and often form opinions with far too little information and devoid of creativity.
But the interview notes that you can't “meander forever.” Eventually, you need other parts of your brain to form and test hypotheses, something that is equally irritating to list checkers. Maybe they just don’t like the on-off ramps?
To me, I took the traditional form of brainstorming as meandering far too long and that the part of creativity where hypotheses are formed and tested is what makes sessions that permit critical thinking and evaluation so much more productive.
So I guess that's why I can seem to be equally irritating to both list checkers and Pollyannish creatives.
With all of this in mind, I'll still participate in brainstorming sessions when invited, but also suggest that they be accompanied by individual brainstorming sessions and that, when were together as a group, we are able to evaluate, debate and analyze ideas without getting personal.
I’ll report back on how that goes. If the original ground rules have persisted more than five decades after they were debunked, I can imagine it may take facilitators to be much more open to contrary ideas before we see brainstorming practices begin to evolve and catch up with brain science.
Saturday, March 24, 2012
Friday, March 23, 2012
During the mid to late 1980s I went through something of a mid-career crisis. I loved community-destination marketing, especially for mid-sized communities and I was good at it but circumstances at the time gave me reason to reassess and reaffirm.
I was drawing unsolicited attention from larger communities along with requests to see my resume. At the same time I wondered if I was meant to stay on that career path just because I was successful and if so, would larger communities be as engaging and fulfilling?
My resume at the time was 10-15 years out of date so I sought advice from a friend who headed a very cutting-edge search firm and who had profiled me at one time as a template for communities seeking DMO execs. He started fresh by asking me to jot down a list of personal descriptors – and I still have a copy of that list today.
One term I listed was “intense” which he later crossed out and replaced with “passionate” a term I would come to hear used frequently during the last two decades of my now-concluded career in community-destination marketing. I remember asking the late Don Clifton to tell me the difference.
He explained to me that the communities I had represented to that point in my career definitely knew the difference. He described the difference much the same way Steve Moore, a fellow blogger, did a few weeks ago when he wrote that:
- “Intensity communicates, ‘I really want you to believe this.’ Passion communicates, ‘I really believe this.’
- Intensity is marked mostly by emotion; passion is marked mostly by conviction.
- Intensity is often packaged with hype; passion comes with authenticity.
- Intensity comes across as superficial; passion comes across as natural.
- Intensity is communicated by talking loudly; passion is communicated by talking plainly.
- There’s a place for intensity in leadership, but its no substitute for passion.”
Any success attributed to me, especially during my tenure in Durham, NC where I still live, is most often credited to being passionate. But I also know that it was because I tapped into the deep vein of passion that runs through residents of this community and merely gave it voice and vision.
As measured through scientific polling, Durham residents are passionate about their community by a ratio of 15 to 1 compared to the national and North Carolina benchmark of 1 to 1.
Moore, who also writes about passion-fueled purpose in his book entitled Who Is My Neighbor?: Being a Good Samaritan in a Connected World, explains the power of the passion in Durham and in my leadership style as a weave of “the threads of interest-based and issue-based passion (coming) together to form an incarnational passion.”
My passion for Durham was disguised for many people by logic and data both because that is my dominate decision-making style and because, let’s face it, passion alone as a trigger can frighten many people, particularly those in business and government.
But in the words of semantic researcher Dr. Frank Luntz, “Passion sustains us…passion turns ordinary businesspeople into extraordinary fighters for a better future.”
In retirement I indulge a number of interest-based passions, some more intense than others, such as photography and motorcycles and reading and English Bulldogs and family and I still dabble in community sense of place and marketing.
But I have fused the latter two into an issue-based passion to preserve and promote the scenic character of my community and my adopted home state of North Carolina through Scenic North Carolina against threats such as outdoor billboards, above ground utility lines and other forms of scenic blight to public property.
These are powerful special interests but Luntz reminds us that “With enough money, you can buy almost anything—information and influence, access and acclaim. Yet without passion, you will not win no matter how much of anything you have.”
To add your passion to this struggle, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Small businesses hate advertising but the outdoor billboard industry and its allies still “strap them to the bumper” as rationale to fend off the 8 out of every 10 residents who oppose the cutting of more trees to make them seen from even greater distances.
A scientific survey of small businesses reveals that less than 3% use off premise signs such as outdoor roadside billboards extensively compared to 86.4% that never use them, a ratio of 29 to 1.
This was lost on the authors of a letter the Durham Chamber of Commerce penned a few weeks ago, but apparently misdated 2010, to NCDOT in support of temporary rules that will permit outdoor billboard companies to circumvent local restrictions and the wishes of residents if they clear cut scores of public forest areas here as planned.
To be generous, the Chamber isn’t the only misguided organization as scores of others including many legislators become aware that a bill granting the clear cutting did not include the provisions promised to protect local values and restrictions or any requirement for replanting or even payment for destruction of public property.
Hopefully the Chamber letter is under reconsideration even as it is being waved around by outdoor billboard companies and allies inside NCDOT to dilute the bans that Durham and other communities place on billboards and override the greater value that these communities and residents statewide place on trees.
But it is interesting how an organization that even receives some public funding comes to proactively give support to policies in direct contradiction to the overwhelming majority of its stakeholders… in fact, even directly contradicting the sustainability policies of its largest contributors, including Duke University which is committed to the goal of tree protection and being a “responsible environmental citizen in the life of the surrounding community.”
No conspiracy is required. Without sufficient context or institutional memory or consultation to balance the pushiness of one or two individuals fronting for special interests, inertia alone is enough to freeze others who would otherwise object and once “the wagons are circled” any organization can become its own hostage.
Just ask members of the state General Assembly.
Before one reads too much into the Chamber’s letter, keep in mind that chambers are intensely political organizations. Give or take, they may actually represent fewer than 1 out of every 6 businesses in any given community but their positions can be infiltrated and subtly contaminated by just one or two savvy individuals or special interests.
Remember, by definition all politics is personal, not logical. Often the smaller the organization, the more personal it becomes. I know from serving on the boards and/or volunteering for chambers in several communities over 26 of the last 40 years.
Typically chambers have little involvement in marketing, another thing that confuses many small businesses, because with few exceptions that isn’t really a part of a chamber’s mission. That mission falls to dedicated official community-destination marketing organizations (DMOs.)
If Durham’s Chamber had taken the lead of the community’s destination marketing organization with which it works closely on so many things, it would have grasped that billboards already have plenty of clearance through selective cutting. The chamber would have also learned that trees are of far more value to economic development including a good business climate.
The chamber would have also learned that there are far better and less expensive alternatives to outdoor billboards when out-of-home advertising is needed and the alternatives don’t sacrifice the community’s scenic character.
So, if not small, independent businesses, who are the few remaining advertisers keeping outdoor billboards on life support? As of 2010 reports they aren’t even based in Durham or North Carolina or probably even members of a local chamber. Think Verizon, AT&T, GEICO, Chase Bank, McDonalds and Anheuser-Busch to name a handful.
Do we really owe them our trees, one of North Carolina’s signature assets? No and Hell No!
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
According to a new analysis by The Boston Consulting Group, retail sales at $482 billion from research online-purchase offline (ROPO) in the United States is nearly twice that of online-only retail.
This is why more small, independent businesses must invest in an online presence as a primary marketing strategy. This is especially true of the 41% that still experiment from time to time with traditional advertising.
ROPO growth may in time make up for the fact that some online-only retailers such as Amazon.com do everything possible not to replace the local and state sales tax revenues they deplete. But because it may not be evenly distributed, ROPO growth may not guarantee the survival of local independent businesses so critical to local community sense-of-place.
The study illustrates the return-on-investment from publicly-funded research and development. Financed initially by federal government-funded research, the Internet is now 4.7% of the U.S. GDP.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Usually the Durham City Manager is pretty stoic, but he was visibly cheered a few days ago when applause erupted during one of several confirmation vows to the community taken by participants at the second annual “Marry Durham” street festival in the NoCO District.
That particular applause was in appreciation for the repaving of Durham streets, maintenance of which had been neglected and is now being rapidly returned to standard thanks to voter-approved bonds.
Residents will be even more expressive when the visual impression created by maintenance of roadsides, medians and right-of-ways is similarly restored to best-practice standards.
Detailed under “Roadway Image,” this element is part of “Community Character,” Chapter 4 of the plan that overarches both the City and County of Durham and their respective strategic and agency tactical plans.
Standing just at the periphery of that crowd that was cheering on the City Manager a few days ago was a booth for Keep Durham Beautiful, a non-profit whose management is embedded in Durham City General Services, the agency that will need much better funding if roadsides are to receive similar cheers in the future.
Every year Durham residents’ perceptions of roadside maintenance are benchmarked in two ways. One is a scientific, anonymous opinion survey of residents of both the city and county. Another way is an eyes-on Index of litter and other forms of neglect conducted by resident volunteers and coordinated by Keep Durham Beautiful.
As can be seen by clicking on each of the links in this sentence, both the Index and the opinion survey illustrate that this is an area both the City and County must improve if they are to meet the extremely high expectations of residents in this regard.
Click here to receive details about or to volunteer to participate in the 2012 Index which will be conducted on April 19th.
Monday, March 19, 2012
From his days in the 35th Tank Battalion my late and incredibly ultraconservative father returned from Europe after World War II with some fascinating stories about technological conspiracies that invariably began with perceptions regarding the first automatic transmissions.
Throughout the remaining five decades of his life he was firmly convinced that oil companies, even during the decades he worked for one, conspired to withhold technology that would have permitted the widespread availability of fuel-efficient vehicles even far beyond our wildest dreams today.
Part of being an independent, especially one who, like me, is moderate, is reading and listening to people from all points of the opinion spectrum. Even when I have to hold my nose to make it past the messenger to read or hear the message, I can usually still find something that resonates or stimulates my thinking.
There are many things to commend the writings of economist Dean Baker and you definitely never have to hold your nose to get his message. In his new book, subtitled “Making Markets Progressive,” Baker, who co-directs the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) cites a 2011 finding by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):
“…that the number of patents per capita was the most important factor determining the extent to which income was redistributed upward from those at the middle and bottom to those at the top over the last three decades.”
Lest anyone feel the need to knee-jerk there are plenty of people at all points on the ideological spectrum who agree that patent and copyright laws need to be reformed and that they are an example of how government is used by conservatives to enforce monopolies.
For a Jon Stewart-esque look at how funny math is used to justify patents and copyrights, click here for hilarious TED snippet by comedian Rob Reid.
In this latest book Baker describes in very easy-to-understand terms that patents and copyrights are “both explicit government policies to promote innovation and creative work.” But they also allow these “monopolies to charge prices far above the free market price.” There is equally compelling evidence that they also suppress the free market and inhabit innovation and job creation.
The book breaks down how patents for drug companies provide an incentive to conduct R&D, but the transfers equate to about 15 times the amount the federal government spends on the core program for welfare.
Oh and before you dismiss Baker as a hypocrite because books are copyrighted, he provides his as a free download at this link.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Friday, March 16, 2012
“Access to opportunity” is a consumer-behavior paradox that most marketers fail to grasp or choose to ignore. It is the reality that the more access a consumer has to a product or service, the harder it is to get their attention, let alone persuade them to purchase. In fact, the more access they have, the less likely they are to buy.
This may be even truer of business-to-business marketing than it is to business-to-consumer. This behavior pattern wasn’t brought to my attention until I was three quarters of the way through my now-concluded forty-year career in community-destination marketing. Ironically, the dots were connected for me by Louise Stevens, a consultant based in Bozeman, Montana, which is just north of the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, of which I am a native and where we often sold or purchased livestock, especially horses.
I never worked with Louise, but I was briefly interviewed by her back in the 1990s for an analysis she did for Durham, North Carolina, where I live and in turn she educated me about this paradox. And whenever I bring up the term “access to opportunity” with other marketers or businesses that use marketing I nearly always get a slightly puzzled look followed by “ah ha” which confirms that I obviously wasn't the last one to learn about it!
Many marketers and businesses either still appear to be ignorant or apathetic about this nugget of consumer behavior but anyone involved in community marketing should care deeply unless they want to doom their communities to endless churn. The term “access to opportunity” explains why consumers, whether individuals or businesses, become more likely to pass on purchasing opportunities as the choices within a category of products or services become more plentiful.
This is simply because more access leads to not only a dilution of purchases for that product or service but also an erosion of any sense of urgency to buy at all leaving a consumer feeling that “if not today, there is always tomorrow.” This is why communities that continue to add cultural facilities or events, including and sometimes especially sports facilities, without any regard to supply and demand are doomed to eventually cannibalize what they already have.
In part this behavior also explains why consumers are increasingly tuning out altogether to advertisements placed in newspapers and magazines, but particularly on television, radio and especially on huge outdoor roadside billboards. For the latter this is why the industry is so misguided in its determination to clear-cut football-field-size swaths of trees and other green roadside infrastructure in either/or both directions from every billboard.
Enabled by a seemingly codependent or oblivious legislature, the billboard industry’s tragic disregard for public property not only overrides the wishes of 85% of North Carolina's voters as voiced in scientific public opinion polls but the sacrifice of these natural resources will be for no avail.
It is an immutable fact of consumer behavior that the more they are able to see an outdoor billboard, even one that displays digitally and frantically changing messages every few seconds, the less likely they are to look and when they do, for 99% it will be for less than 3/4ths of a second according to a yet to be released study.
That is less than a third of the time it would minimally take to discern an advertisement according to other studies.
So any business or organization occupying space on a roadside billboard will not only alienate the nearly 8 in 10 consumers who view them as a desecration as well as the nearly 9 in 10 who oppose cutting any more trees to make them visible, but the minuscule fraction who will look at them long enough to discern a message is now even less likely to do so. Ironically even the digital ones are almost impossible to read at all in the brief portion of a second that they are viewed, if at all.
Outdoor billboard companies apparently don't really care about overwhelming public opposition because they know that any detrimental reaction will be to the businesses and organizations that advertise on them. They are also not likely to be forthcoming to potential advertisers with the fact that their message is now even less likely to be seen at all due to “access to opportunity.”
A major factor keeping these huge obsolete outdoor billboards on life-support long enough to desecrate hundreds of thousands of additional publicly-owned roadside trees is the sad fact that most marketers and businesses are only now waking up to the fact that the messages they place and where they place them must be measured as much by the number of consumers they turn off as by the shrinking few they may turn on.
And “access to opportunity” means that any cost-benefit analysis must also take into consideration the fact that fewer and fewer consumers who do view the messages even care.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
I first put eyes on North Carolina 23 years ago this month and through what turned out to be a fortuitous mistake my first glimpse included a 40-mile span of I-40 roadsides that illustrated both the desecration and blight created by outdoor billboards and the sublimeness of their absence.
I flew in to RDU to interview as the start-up CEO for Durham’s first-ever official community- destination marketing organization (DMO) but I was picked up at the airport by an old friend from Washington state, Dave Heinl. He and I first got our start in destination marketing in the 1970s, he as director of sales in Seattle, west of the Cascades and I in the same position for Spokane in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the far east.
Waiting our turns to make competing presentations to host large conventions back then had given us time to become acquainted and earn one another’s respect in both victory and defeat. Yes, occasionally much smaller Spokane would prevail and I was asked to lead that DMO.
Having successfully transformed it into a stand alone organization, I went on to head the DMO in Anchorage for most of the 1980s while Dave headed off to similar positions in Hartford and Portland, Oregon before jumpstarting the one in Raleigh, a post from which he eventually retired a few years before I did from the post in Durham two years ago, more than two decades after accepting that position.
He was excited to pick me up at the jointly-owned airport located midway between the two very distinct cities because he anticipated correctly that I would be a good fit for Durham and we both wanted to catch up. Busy pointing out assets that had been claimed by Raleigh but really belonged to Durham, Dave missed the turn for I 40 onto the Durham Freeway that would've taken me downtown to my hotel.
We were so busy talking as we traversed across southern Durham that Dave also didn't detect that I 40 W had just opened and we were halfway to Greensboro before we realized it and turned back. I realize now that Dave’s preoccupation and oversights that day gave me the perfect “with and without” introduction to the state’s struggle to protect its roadside view sheds and vaunted sense-of-place from billboard blight, one that continues to this day.
As we turned around in Burlington to head back to Durham I saw a worst-case example in that otherwise delightful little town of what happens along an interstate that is undefended from the excesses of billboards and development without regard to sense of place. It remains the perfect example of what not to do and how precarious sense of place is in a scenic state such as North Carolina.
The effort that ensured that I 40 through southern Durham remains a spectacular “best practice” example of what can happen when roadsides are protected began in the mid-1980s, four years before I arrived here, with the encouragement of the Durham Chamber of Commerce, which ironically and inexplicably but unsuccessfully tried a few years ago to aid the overturn of Durham's nearly 30-year-old ban on billboards.
Ironies such as that illustrate the importance of organizational memory to insulating sound decision-making from he whims of powerful special interests. This was illustrated again just last year when so many proposals in the legislature appeared ignorant of Section 5, Article XIV of the North Carolina State Constitution and the voter-embedded policy “to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty.”
Back in 1984, as a very forward-thinking Durham City Council was first enacting a communitywide billboard ban, a jointly City-County-established planning committee of Durham residents was working to successfully create what is called a Major Transportation Corridor District or overlay to protect the roadsides of I 40 as it was then planned to dissect the southern portion of this community (351.8642 in the Durham Main Library.)
The committee was chaired by Barbara V. Smith, a Duke development executive, who would later serve as the chair of my DMO’s governing board and still lives here at The Forest at Duke. Her committee included recently retired 30-year Durham County Commissioner Becky Heron, who also went on to serve on my governing board, as well as City Council member and Republican Jane Davis, who spearheaded the citywide billboard ban.
In consultation with land owners along the route of the proposed I 40 through Durham, the committee successfully spurred local legislation that prohibited billboards on that stretch, but also established very effective screens including trees, setbacks, landscape standards, sign standards and other elements to also preserve and protect environmentally sensitive and historical assets.
Drive that stretch of I 40 through Durham today and less than 40 miles from the desecration seen as the highway passes through Burlington, you will see how all roadsides in North Carolina could, should, and hopefully will one day look throughout the state of North Carolina.
It is on the shoulders of visionaries such as Barbara, Becky, Jane and other members of that committee and that far-sighted, mid-1980s City Council and Board of Durham County Commissioners that many of us in a statewide organization called Scenic North Carolina stand today in defense of North Carolina's public roadsides as NCDOT moves to permit clear cutting of hundreds of thousands of publicly-owned trees by the outdoor billboard industry.
The legislation enabling this give-away is also a direct attempt to override and violate local values and standards along state roadways as they pass through cities and counties and a disgrace to the North Carolina Constitution.
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
I hope officials did more than utter “cool” when a friend recently circulated a new benchmark analysis of city parkland by The Trust for Public Land. I know public servants such as Stacy Poston in special projects in General Services for Durham, one of the cities benchmarked, will be all over it.
The Trust was founded the same year that North Carolinians by a margin of of 7 to 1 voted to embed the policy to conserve and protect “forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty” into article XIV of the state constitution.
Judging by the overall maintenance of its parkland, Durham, North Carolina where I live needs to take that responsibility a lot more seriously especially when it comes to maintenance and upkeep.
The City of Durham appears to have only half the park acres as a percentage of overall land area that is the average for the 100 largest cities in the United States. Of North Carolina's urban areas all but Greensboro is below average and all rank in the lowest category. Raleigh only appears to be higher because it is propped up by inclusion of a huge state Park that virtually doubles the parkland within its city limits.
There are several other benchmarks in the study including population density where Durham also ranks significantly below the median for acres of parkland per 1,000 residents and half that of its peer group. The study provides the basis upon which Durham can pull an even tighter state and national analysis making sure not to include state parkland to make the benchmarks more “apples and apples.”
Time is ticking for Durham because while it may be the fifth largest city in the state it is shoehorned into the 17th smallest county in terms of land area and a third has been wisely set aside in watershed and/or very low density development. Some see that as an excuse, but I think it should be motivation.
But before my adopted hometown considers adding to public parkland and open space I believe it needs to be held more accountable for funding and greatly improving the maintenance and upkeep of what it already has judging from the very popular park down the hill from where I live.
Unfortunately, it seems to be the nature of far too many people to fuss about something new while letting what they already have fall into neglect. Maybe it feeds the need for a dopamine rush but I'm afraid it is more likely a form of community attention deficit.
If time was not so critical when it comes to protecting openlands and historical sites, I wonder if it might be a good idea to require cities and counties, and for that matter states, to index any ability to pursue new things to their track records for maintenance and upkeep of what they already have.
After all that's just part of conservation and preservation.
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Monday, March 12, 2012
My first understanding of the corrupting influence of lobbying crossed my mind again during my most recent 6000-mile cross-country trip with my English Bulldog, Mugsy.
During that day we had traversed the last leg of the northern plains stretching from Bismarck, North Dakota through almost the entire state of Montana. I remembered as we drove past the Great Falls of the Missouri River and caught the first glimpse of nearly 9,000-foot Red Eagle Peak that this eastern slope of the Continental Divide was originally intended as the border between Montana and my native state of Idaho.
As I grew up I was told that the area on the map where it looks like Montana took a bite out of Idaho occurred because members of the survey party had been drinking, made a wrong turn and dropped down to the Bitterroot Range far too soon before getting back on track again by picking up the Continental Divide just below the nose in the face carved into Idaho by today's western boundary of Montana.
I guess the nasty habit of blaming humble public servants for the actions of lobbyists and elected officials isn't new nor is it the result of the fact that the amount spent on lobbying Congress more than doubled in just the last 10 years to more than $3.3 billion last year alone.
If not for this so-called mistake nearly all of Glacier National Park along with other scenic places on the western side of the divide such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Whitefish, Kalispell, Flathead Lake, Libby, Missoula, Lolo and the Bitterroot River Valley should've been included in Idaho where their terrain is far more complimentary than with the plains.
In college I learned that the story about the survey party was legend but the truth about so much of Idaho was placed in Montana instead is much more complicated and, I dare say, fascinating. The before and after land distribution is illustrated by the two maps from the 1860s shown as images in this blog.
All of what was originally intended to be Montana, along with what became the other plains states defined by the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 when the fledgling United States bought the land from France using deficit financing (OMG) from Great Britain and the Netherlands. That territory today makes up about 23% of the United States of America.
The northwestern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase ran along the Continental Divide which to the west defined Oregon Country and in 1848 the Oregon Territory, then the Washington Territory and then sixty years after the Louisiana Purchase the Idaho Territory created by Congress as the Civil War was winding down.
President Lincoln appointed a Republican, transplanted Ohioan and Union Army veteran named Sidney Edgerton as Chief Justice for the US Territorial Court there. William Wallace, another Republican Ohioan had already been appointed Governor of the Idaho Territory by Lincoln following his completed a term as governor of the Washington Territory.
Apparently Wallace, who had already lived for many years in the Pacific Northwest, shared that region’s resentment of the appointment of outsiders. In turn, Judge Edgerton was apparently insulted when Governor Wallace assigned him to the then-remote district west of the Bitterroot Range rather than assigning him, as presumed, for the post of chief justice to the district around the then-Territorial Capital of Lewiston west of the Bitterroot mountains.
On a return leg of that same cross-country road trip last year I drove with Mugsy off the Palouse down through the 64 switchbacks of 2000’ Lewiston Hill and into its namesake which had been founded back then in the wake of a gold rush and had just begun its two year stint as the Territorial Capital.
We then headed up the Middle Fork of the Clearwater across the Bitterroot spine of the Idaho Panhandle, up and over Lolo Pass tracing the route used for millennia by the Nez Perce Indians and nearly six decades before Wallace’s snub of Judge Edgerton by the Lewis and Clark Expedition before we dropped down into the Bitterroot River Valley where he was assigned to preside.
Much has been made of the snub and a quick and revengeful trip East by the Judge with pockets full of gold to persuade Congress to alter Idaho’s border by lopping off his judicial district and grafting it instead to a part of the Dakota Territory being used to create the new Montana Territory.
But the issue was further complicated because the divide between those on the west and east of the Bitterroots also reflected the divide between the north and south. Lincoln and the Republican-dominated Congress knew the people populating the three territories of the Pacific Northwest were predominantly Democrats, many from the south and southwest.
So a perfect storm of personal politics, money, lobbying, accessibility and partisanship changed the eastern boundary of Idaho mapped at this link to the one at this link. Later a similar combination moved the part of eastern Idaho which then embraced both sides of the Teton Range and included the Jackson Hole Valley as well as the resource-rich area from the Star Valley to Rock Springs over into the plains state of Wyoming.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Saturday, March 10, 2012
Friday, March 09, 2012
Lately I've been thinking a lot about suicide. A few months ago I learned that the wonderful teenage daughter of my best friend had contemplated harming herself but reached out for help; and vibrant young person in my family, who is slightly older, tried to follow through, partly in reaction to some meds, but thankfully was rescued.
Then this week I attended the funeral of the daughter of another friend, who succeeded in killing herself taking a beloved pet with her. She was just two years younger than my own daughter and only child.
During the service, an article crossed my mind that I had read only a few days earlier about the new science of emotions. It was co-written by Dr. Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is also the founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center.
The article is a great introduction to a book published this week that he co-authored with Sharon Begley entitled The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them.
It is a fascinating look into not only how we differ in “how we react to what life throws at us” but also how our brains differ and how and why treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy can repair and strengthen those responses.
Listed in the hard copy of the article, but apparently not in the online version, are what the authors identify as the (I’ve added the definitions from the book) 6 Key Elements of Emotional Style:
Resilience – how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity.
Outlook – how long you are able to sustain a positive emotion.
Self Awareness – how adept you are at picking up on social signals from the people around you.
Social Intuition – how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in.
Attention – how sharp and clear your focus is.
Sensitivity to Context – how good are you at regulating your emotions.
My friend’s teenage daughter is getting better and better and has chronicled her illness and recovery in a remarkable blog that includes the video shown above and linked here. She has also been written up in her school newspaper. My young family member has responded very well to cognitive therapy which has helped her regain her trademark resilience and she’ll never accept another prescription with “benzoid in the name.
The article and the book describe the new information revealed by Dr. Davidson’s research about what is happening in the brain when people react the way these folks did and more importantly that it can be reversed.
The new discovery is that emotions don’t run on a circuitry separate and independent of the regions previously thought to pertain exclusively to cognition, reason, and logic. In fact, emotional style arises partly in these areas.
Resilience, for instance, “is marked by greater left versus right activation in the prefrontal cortex: a lack of resilience comes from higher right prefrontal activation. The amount of activation in the left prefrontal region of a resilient person can be 30 times that in someone who is not resilient.”
Two friends, both former Mayors, have often noted that I am one of the most resilient people they have ever known, something put to the test often in my now-concluded four-decade-long career in community economic development.
However, I didn’t always bounce back so quickly. Even when board meetings went smoothly, it always took me as a CEO, several hours to rejuvenate. I can also recall at least two occasions where it took me several days or weeks to recover from a deep, personal loss and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I doubted at the time whether it was all worth it.
But Dr. Davidson has also found a second element at play in the fact that “the more axons you have connecting one neuron to another between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, the more resilient you are. The less of this “white matter”—that is, the fewer the highways leading from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala—the less resilient you are.”
The great news is that a person’s emotional style can be changed. Meditative therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy actually “increase activity in the prefrontal cortex (especially on the left side), to strengthen the neuronal highways between it and the amygdala, or both.’
Both the article and the book are well worth reading. There is always hope!
Thursday, March 08, 2012
It shouldn’t be a surprise to advertisers that 8 out of every 10 North Carolinians prefer to preserve roadside trees rather than see them clear cut to provide an even wider view of the messages some still post on the 8,000 outdoor billboards throughout this incredibly scenic state.
Nor is this something new. Nearly 40 years ago, by 7 to 1, North Carolina voters amended the State Constitution “to preserve as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty” (Section 5, Article XIV.)
Signaling the protection of and “right” to trees as an enduring value is the fact that it has grown even deeper among North Carolinians during a period when the state’s population has all but doubled since the time this protection was embedded by voters in the constitution.
This was something lost or ignored during the last regular session of the General Assembly when hundreds of thousands of publicly-owned trees were surrendered to out-of-state billboard interests, the largest of which is owned by and under pressure from a Washington-insider private equity firm, without even so much as asking for compensation or requiring replanting.
The right to trees isn’t anything personal to advertising. It is just that North Carolinians place a much greater value on trees, especially the ones the public owns.
Nor can it be misconstrued as opposition to business. The constitutional protection of trees was sponsored by a member of the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame who had previously spearheaded state economic development and tourism promotion.
The desire to preserve “as a part of the common heritage of this State its forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty” is public recognition that these things are not only critical to tourism, one of the state’s largest sectors of business and jobs, but central to North Carolina’s signature popularity with relocating and expanding businesses.
So why do I, as a now-retired 40-year veteran, appear to many to be the only tourism marketing/economic development voice standing up for the preservation-values North Carolinians place on trees both in their state constitution and along roadways?
I should know, right? I admit, many of us in tourism don’t always appear to be the brightest bulbs or very passionate; and like many in the outdoor billboard industry, too many of us seem just plain amoral.
An adaptation of a line written by journalist David Wilkening that “tourism kills the things it loves” echoes to me as so many in that business wait and watch, standing silently by while sycophants wield the chain saws as outdoor billboard companies are set to do.
Far too many in tourism are just “harvesters” failing to grasp that it is the sense-of-place attributes of North Carolina and its communities that are wrapped into marketing to generate the visitation upon which they feast.
Many of those marketing tourism seem to openly violate not only the preservation values of the state but the very norms of the communities they represent. At best they are enablers of those who do.
Many in tourism marketing, like those for most products or services, have never grasped that they are accountable not only for those customers whose interest they light up, but also for those they turn off.
The 1 in 10 North Carolinians who use or respond to messages on outdoor billboards certainly have rights but they don’t trump the rights of 8 times that many who place much greater value on the trees billboard companies want to destroy.
This is why so many advertisers come off as superficial, like the spokesperson one company who tried to rationalize continuing to advertise on a program that many others recently deemed reprehensible by commenting only that:
"As an advertiser, our goal is to reach a broad audience, which we accomplish by placing ads on a number of programs across the country representing diverse views."
Never mind how offensive, harmful, off-putting and vitriolic those diverse views are that this company’s advertising underwrites.
There is a growing, if not already prevailing view by many in advertising that it is in fact the brand being advertised that is most at-risk of being negatively tainted in the minds of consumers when core “values” are violated, whether by a billboard company or distasteful program content.
However I certainly do not stand alone in defense of the rights and values of North Carolinians, even as a veteran of tourism/economic development or marketing when it comes to protecting trees and scenic character from those who value outdoor billboards more.
I merely stand on the shoulders of past marketing giants who have warned against the excesses of outdoor billboards such as David Ogilvy and Howard Gossage; and my passion is amplified by some still in their prime such as the most recent recipient of the state tourism sector’s Bill Sharpe public service award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the development and promotion of NC tourism and many others who will soon follow her lead.
We’re also joined by other market such as Minnesota-based videographer Ossian Or and Marc Gobé who co-founded Desgrippes, one of the top 5 global branding firms and then created the New York-based think tank Emotional Branding.
Keep the faith and to join us in defense of North Carolina’s constitutional values and rights such as the preservation of our forests, wetlands, estuaries, beaches, historical sites, openlands, and places of beauty, email email@example.com .
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Then as he would later do through scores of personal interviews and focus groups carefully balanced to reflect every aspect of the community, he patiently continued to ask questions until the hundreds of people involved were able to drill down past activities, etc. to the very essence of this community's distinct personality, its temporal character and values.
It then took a lot of scientific generalizable research to confirm that Durham truly owned these attributes that were identified both in the minds of its residents, but also external stakeholders such as visitors and potential visitors and businesses and executives looking to relocate and talented people they pursue.
But for anyone who focuses on “place” only through the lens of the “built environment,” there is an interesting new book, a very quick read by Dr. Avi Friedman entitled The Nature of Place –A Search for Authenticity.
Through a series of stories about various places he has visited and studied, Friedman, an architecture professor at McGill in Montréal describes what make these places unique and lasting while also describing why so many place lack what he calls “soul.” He's very clear that you cannot “choreograph place.”
If, like me, you've grown accustomed to reading e-books I think you'll have to buy an actual book this time, but it is available in paperback.
Dr. Friedman helped me understand why various Durham architectural elements such as its unique tobacco warehouses along with the Neo- Gothic West Campus of Duke University are so treasured by residents and visitors alike. In his words, what makes places like Durham, authentic is that “they age gracefully.”
The tobacco warehouses now in adaptive reuse as offices and restaurants and stores, feature architectural detail and relief that distinguish them from similar buildings in other communities. Friedman notes the buildings such as these and centerpieces such as Duke Chapel (which is really a cathedral) were a challenge to build but the people who built them took care in building them to age gracefully.
Place-based assets such as these, along with those that are environmental and cultural when blended with distinctive personality and character traits are all part of the community’s overarching brand.
Durham and the way it is reflected by its community’s destination marketing organization and its partners “got it right.” The real challenge though is continuing to shape an ever-evolving community that continues to “age gracefully.”
For those not into reading, to hear a brief broadcast interview about the book with Dr. Friedman on PRI’s The World click here.
Tuesday, March 06, 2012
I smiled last weekend when I accidentally came across what appears to be a new element in mobile marketing strategy for the official community-destination marketing organization (DMO) for my adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina.
Having jumpstarted that organization nearly 25 years ago and having served as its CEO until a little more than two years ago, I'm always tickled to witness all of the changes and improvements that have been made since I retired and not at all surprised that I haven't kept pace. The speed of change in that organization continues to be one of its core values and strengths.
The challenge for any DMO when it comes to mobile marketing strategy, is where to place their very limited resources. The debate is whether to develop a trendy Smartphone/tablet app or to first develop a mobile version of the organization's #1-rated website, not just something that is mobile-readable.
After carefully studying best practices, it appears Durham’s DMO has decided to put first things first and is launching what appears to be a very thorough and user-friendly mobile version of it’s A-rated website.
But let me tell you a secret about why many travelers prefer that to a customized app. Travelers who use Smartphones and tablets have discovered that you can create your own app for a destination by:
- searching the web browser,
- finding the official site,
- clicking on the little curved arrow at the bottom, then
- selecting “add to home screen” and voilà.
In less than 10 seconds after discovering Durham's mobile website, I had not just bookmarked it in the browser but also added an icon for it right next to apps on my home screen - and I’m a geezer.
I suspect that DCVB will be marketing the mobile version in many places, including the homepage of its regular award-winning website because this is where nearly all travelers including those with mobile devices will go to research first the destination community they hope to visit or for an upcoming business trip and then what to see and do and where to stay and what events may be occurring.
But once en route they will use the mobile site especially to spontaneously identify things to do including places to eat that are nearby, get directions or change plans either on a Smartphone or on a tablet by enlarging it to twice its size by clicking on the 1X in the bottom right corner.
Another secret is that residents are as likely as travelers to use the DCVB mobile website because it has the most comprehensive and timely calendar of community events and database of places to eat and things to do, all searchable by where they happen to be at the moment and because it is handy to quickly forward various pages to family members and relatives.
One day, Durham’s “best practice” DMO may still create an app to reach those who haven't yet discovered how simple it is to create an app-like icon of something they have found on a smartphone or tablet web browser.
After all, already:
- Over 30% of all internet traffic come from tablet devices or Smartphones
- Over 50% of all local searches come from mobile devices
Monday, March 05, 2012
When asked recently if she had ever considered asking her famous father for venture capital, clothing designer Stella McCartney gave what I thought was a great reply, “We don't do things like that in my family, we work.”
Now if arguably the most successful songwriter in history, who is worth give or take about $75 million in assets and earns about $4 million a month can instill that value in his children, why hasn’t it, as my daughter often wonders aloud, apparently been imparted to so many people in their 20-somethings today?
As someone who spent all but about four years of his now concluded nearly 40 year career as a CEO, I've read a bazillion articles and books and listened to several consultants with tips about how to help people succeed in their work life. Some were excellent, many were a bit trite.
But I came across one 10 days ago in Inc. magazine written by Jeff Haden , who writes an excellent column entitled Owners Manual. It is entitled 8 Qualities of Remarkable Employees and it is well worth the read regardless of whether you are a parent, a manager, employee, student or wanna-be-employee.
They are all worth reviewing and you can see them by clicking on the link in the previous paragraph, but the one I want to blog about today may apply to an entire community. It is number 6. They speak when others won’t.
Shortly after I arrived in Durham North arolina more than two decades ago to jumpstart the community’s official marketing agency E’Vonne Coleman Cook came to run the Durham Arts Council for a decade where she stayed for a decade before moving on to work for Duke University for a few years and now works for my successor at the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau as its Chief Operating Officer.
When E’Vonne returned to Durham, where she went to college, she left a post as an executive at the National Endowment for the Arts. We collaborated and became good friends and then, as now, she was particularly insightful about both Durham and North Carolina from the perspective of a female executive and as an African-American.
After returning home from a particularly draining statewide meeting with colleagues I was complaining to E’Vonne on the phone the next day that it seemed like I was always the one who had to bring up difficult issues and ask difficult questions.
She laughed and said “Sure you are. People from Durham are always the ones who have to speak up.” She was right. It also remains true of my successor in that organization and I've also heard that same thing in general about people from Durham from many other friends around the state.
I agree with Haden who wrote further about this quality:
“An employee once asked me a question about potential layoffs. After the meeting I said to him, ‘Why did you ask about that? You already know what's going on.’
He said, ‘I do, but a lot of other people don't, and they're afraid to ask. I thought it would help if they heard the answer from you.’
Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.”
The same thing is also true when working outside the office representing your organization or your community in collaborations with others. It isn't always so easy to speak up especially surrounded by others who won't or by many who are eager to just “go along to get along” or make decisions by “who’s asking” or to stay or be accepted as “one of the boys.”
Being willing to speak up to ask questions and raise important issues is also essential to what Dr. Frank Luntz frames as paradigm-breaking, one of the “9 P’s” of being a winner, in his new book Win. Luntz describes a paradigm as “a set of assumptions, concepts, values and practices that constitutes the way of viewing reality for the community that shares them.
Possibly Durham has paradigm breaking in its DNA but take a moment to read about Haden’s other 7 qualities and then forward them to a 20-something as inspiration.
As Luntz notes in his book, “winners…read incessantly and they consume outside their comfort zone…But more than simply devouring everything around them, they're always thinking about life in strategic, unique ways ways.
To me that fuels an ability to ask questions and raise issues.
Sunday, March 04, 2012
Saturday, March 03, 2012
Friday, March 02, 2012
I've created a few strategic blueprints and supervised the process for others during my now-concluded career in community-destination marketing management. So I understand a little bit about what a Herculean effort it must've been, even with consultants to produce strategic plans recently for both the City of Durham and Durham County.
I remember how stunned I once was when a consultant told me that the plan I had written and supervised in 1992 and then updated each year for a much smaller organization was recognized internationally as best practice. I also remember how stunned he was to learn it had been produced internally.
I was even more stunned when he told me in front of my governing board at the time that it would have cost $100,000 or more if you import done externally.
Of course the strategic plans produced for the City and County are not nearly as in depth as the one with which I was so closely involved because it was a much tinier and more narrowly-focused organization but also in my view the City’s and County’s are sub strategic plans sandwiched between the overarching Durham Comprehensive Plan and soon-to-be created tactical plans for each of the 20+ agencies that make up each of these large organizations.
As I thoroughly read and enjoyed the individual plans for the City and County which have been accepted/adopted by their respective governing bodies, I hoped that enough flexibility had been built in to the process for the management and staff of these organizations to infill things that are always overlooked in any process of this size.
Plans such as these should be organic anyway. Even though by nature they are multiple-year plans, they are much stronger and improved if small modifications can be made ongoing rather than one-and-done.
For instance, it is probably just an oversight that Keep Durham Beautiful and the Durham Appearance Advocacy Group were not included under the excellent list of community partnerships that were begun near the end of the City plan. I also see “appearance” listed as a priority in the SWOC section (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, challenges – more typically referred to as threats in private sector plans – or SWOT) but seemingly not addressed in the action portion.
It may be just my take but ironically, it seems that infrastructure has been broadened to include “green” infrastructure in the older, bigger-picture Comprehensive Plan but may still be somewhat limited to traditional references in plans specific to the City or County.
A helpful addition to each plan for residents might be to modify the respective mission statements so that the inherent division of effort between the City and County is more apparent. This would particularly help those who are under the mistaken impression that the the organizations are unnecessary duplications.
It would be a shame and a waste of time if small details like this can't be remedied without going back through City Council, which for a governing board is far too involved in day-to-day minutia.
I was pleased that both plans include visitors as external stakeholders and customers, something overlooked by many communities. I was also impressed that both plans included a central role for communications and marketing and that things such as community image and pride were mentioned.
I was also pleased to see both plans include a statement of core values, especially one in the County’s plan about “building consensus through give and take.” Had that value existed during my now-concluded career, I would not only have far fewer tire tracks up my front and backsides, but many win/lose decisions would have been more win-win with even better results.
It is a little puzzling that these two plans don't more explicitly connect the dots back to the equally excellent but much longer-term and bigger-picture Comprehensive Plan that is just completing a midcourse update and overarches both organizations. I hope it's not a case of the overarching plan being “siloed” and that I'm just missing something.
An example would be the comprehensive plan’s goal and objectives for”Roadway Image” in Chapter 4, Community Character and Design. There are places in both the City and County plans that could've easily tied back to the two areas in particular where residents have recently given the community negative scores on scientific surveys such as roadside appearance and communitywide wayfinding.
That same segment in the Comprehensive Plan seems to signal that expanding the Urban Tree Canopy, street tree replacement and buried utility lines should be noted in the individual strategic plan for each organization. These are just examples and of course related to passions of mine, but they aren't isolated.
I think the creation of these two strategic plans is a huge step forward and a real tribute to the many excellent public administrators who worked so hard to create them and many more who will now be expected to not only execute them, but keep them current.