Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time To Reflect

The two blogs below will be he last for a couple of weeks.  Time for reflection!

Those Who Dismiss Research – A Neurological Perspective

I have a clearer understanding now of why some people resist or never seem to grasp why it is important to provide research or back-up for decisions which I learned to do early in my now-concluded four decades as a community/destination marketing executive.

In fact, after reading the 2008 book by neurologist Dr. Robert A. Burton entitled On Being Certain – Believing You Are Right When You’re Not, I understand now why some of these people always seemed to get so so annoyed and dismissive and even threatened by research. Capture

I always felt that my gut hunches and intuition were as strong or stronger than anyone else’s, as was my strength of what Burton calls the “feelings of knowing and correctness and conviction.”

But until Burton broke it down so clearly in his book, I didn’t realize that these and other thoughts are all really just as Burton writes, “just sensations subject to perceptual illusions and misperceptions.”

Stephen Jay Gould is quoted saying, “objectivity resides in recognizing your preferences and then subjecting them to especially harsh scrutiny.”

Paying more attention to gut hunches and intuition according to Burton “doesn’t guarantee a higher degree of accuracy.”  He continues, “we have no mechanism for establishing the accuracy of a line of reasoning until it has produced a testable idea.”

Maybe that’s why we always felt that we owed it to stakeholders to submit my decisions to “harsh scrutiny,” and underpin them with testing and research.  We also felt it was important to provide stakeholders not only with the decisions but the research upon when they were based both so they could see how and why the decisions were made but also understand the validation.

It was was later in my career that studies quantified that this approach to information-based decision making also provides a measurable advantage.

Dr. Burton’s explanation of what neurological research has learned has also helped me better understand the folks who long ago shut down or out-shouted what he describes as the subconscious screening committees meant to vet their thoughts based on past experiences and biological tendencies.

These are the people with little patience for discussions in meetings.  You know, the ones that always feel they have the correct and only answer.  Long ago they  closed their minds to their own subconscious screening committee let alone any they encounter in the conscious world.

These folks may have an addiction to what the book describes as a brain-reward system for “certainty over open-mindedness.” They may be educated but only to what Burton calls “the thrust of being correct (or appearing correct) rather than acquiring a thoughtful awareness (and acceptance) of ambiguities, inconsistencies and underlying paradoxes.”

While many other people are energized by ideas, learning, unlearning and relearning, these folks remain as addicted to certainty as rats are in the experiment where electrodes are placed to stimulate pleasure and they will keep pressing the bar for more, forgoing food and water until they drop.

When these folks are confronted with the “cognitive dissonance” from new ideas and concepts, according to Burton, “instead of acknowledging an error in judgment or abandoning an opinion, they tend to develop a new attitude or belief that will justify retaining it.”

These two types of thinkers, those over reliant on unverified and untested gut instincts and those addicted to certainty often team up and fall victim to “confirmation bias” or the “motivated reasoning” revealed in a noted study led by Dr. Drew Westen.

Westen’s team of researchers subjected partisans for both 2004 presidential candidates to questioning during fMRIs.  The study revealed an almost total lack of activity in the part of the brain used for reasoning.

This may be why President Obama befuddles polarized partisans on both sides of the isle because he is willing to inform his opinions with new information and be open to good ideas regardless of the origin. He can see through the inconsistencies and underlying paradoxes of polarized arguments.

Maybe some people and factions distrust research and legitimate scholars and intellectual authorities because they or others they witness view it only as something obtained to confirm an existing bias just as adherents to some political ideologies alarmingly listen and watch only news outlets that will confirm their existing opinions while others including Independents consume news from a cross section of different outlets.

Fostering Festival Entrepreneurship

Reinventing an event, if possible at all, begins with retracing its roots.

If a community is as inventive and creative as Durham, North Carolina there behind layers and layers of subsequent producers and volunteers, you usually find someone such as Katherine O’Brien as one of the original pioneers.

She’s a good part of the energy behind the emergence and success of Durham’s two newest, indigenous and organic events, The Beaver Queen Pageant and Marry Durham when she isn’t applying her creative energies as a gaming entrepreneur or specialist for geographic information systems.

Katherine is the epitome of the people who creative-class-author Peter Kazgeyama labels as co-creators.  They are the people who “produce the interesting, the memorable, the unique, the fun and lovable aspects of our community.”

I know Katherine, aka “Caferine de Nerve” from my former life as a community/destination marketing executive (DMOs.)  Anyone in that field who is serious about drilling down to the essence and soul of a community, if it still has one, needs to find the Katherine O’Briens’ who live there.

Embracing indigenous events should be a no-brainer for DMO executives anywhere but the highest form of flattery anyone in that field can receive is to be embraced by indigenous events as my successor in Durham was this summer as the “dishonorable” judge Chief Beaver Believer” for The Beaver Queen Pageant to benefit the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.

Showcasing mainstream events gets a community on a list with hundreds of other communities.  But showcasing indigenous and organic events sets a community apart, drawing interest for a far broader audience of potential visitors including those who will ultimately attend mainstream events there.

It is indigenous and organic events that give a community credibility.

As Bob Lefsetz recently blogged, people in the creative industries seem to have lost their sense of innovation.  Some places such as Durham, with innovation and creativity in their DNAs, are naturally appealing to entrepreneurs of all kinds including festival start-ups and need only to look to their own Katherine O’Briens’ for inspiration.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nothing Like A Thorough Top-To-Bottom Diagnostic

People who second guess their community’s destination marketing organization (DMO) may not care because the motive is usually either to secure special benefit or to appear smarter.

For any who do care, they really only need to ask one question.DMAI_Accredited

Has the official DMO working on behalf of my community earned full accreditation to the best practices and highest standards of community marketing?

Only one in every ten in North America are accredited including the nine just added to that list including the DMO in Asheville, North Carolina bringing to six the number in this state to earn the distinction.

The DMO for Durham, North Carolina was among the first in the state and the first two dozen in North America to earn accreditation four years ago and now becomes one of the first three of ten worldwide to earn re-accreditation and with an unprecedented 12 exemplary citations.

Accreditation is a rigorous, top-to-bottom diagnostic involving 53 mandatory and 29 voluntary areas of community marketing. Re-accreditation involves an additional 21 mandatory and 1 voluntary.

Durham can be very proud of and happy for my former colleagues including the governing board of that organization, now chaired by friend and former long-time State Senator, Wib Gulley who was just completing his two terms as Mayor of Durham when I was recruited here more than two decades ago to help jump-start Durham’s first-ever community marketing organization.

My private-sector friends are usually incredulous that any organization would voluntarily elect to undergo a thorough diagnostic like accreditation to best practices and standards. It is a real achievement and one in which Durham can truly celebrate as another reason to believe this is “where great things happen.”

Unfortunately the organization responsible for visitor-centric economic and cultural development remains the only economic development organization in Durham that has undergone the scrutiny of an accreditation diagnostic.

Each of the others are sincerely encouraged to pursue accreditation and if one isn’t available to work hard to establish one as credible as the one for DMOs. Without a doubt, accreditation is the most significant professional enhancement in my four decades in that field and possibly over the entire 115 year span since the first DMO was established.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Spirit Of Bob Fowler

The original founder of Fowlers would be proud of Jennings Brody.  From a family of traditional grocers, he founded Fowlers in its former downtown location at the far southwest end of Brightleaf Square, two blocks from where it has been reborn in Peabody Place under another name today.  Bob Fowler displayed a genius feel for how to make a store gourmet while keeping it genuine, authentic and inviting to everyone.

I feel fortunate to have visited with him many times during my former life as a community/destination market executive.  Listening to him helped me more rapidly gain a feel for what makes Durham, North Carolina so unique, a sense that far too many in that field fail to grasp as they approach communities as generic “plug and play.”

After Fowlers sold and moved to a new location, it lost its way and failed.  Resurrected as Parker & Otis by Ms. Brody, the store exhibits the authentic feel and sense of Bob’s original store as though he was still perched in the “crows nest” office from which he kept a close eye on what mattered to his customers.

The sense of how to mix the old and the new as Jennings does cannot be mimicked by those without it, even if as she was, they are tutored in Foster’s Market by one of the best.

People in communities with a strong sense of place such as Durham are sensitive to the difference between knock-offs and the real thing.

In the words of Scott Russell Sanders from his essay about what makes a place real, “what all of us long for, I suspect, is to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…we hunger for integrity and authenticity.”

Fortunately, people from or drawn to Durham know exactly what he means and have found such a place.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Communities – Unpretentious or Narcissistic

“Unpretentious” has been distilled by experts as one of Durham, North Carolina’s core traits and values as a community and scientifically confirmed among both internal and external audiences.

Far more than any physical attributes, personality traits such as these are by far the most emblematic of a community’s distinctive character.

Some outsiders have trouble rationalizing Durham’s unpretentiousness with its unheard of 17 to 1 community pride ratio among residents, or the fact that among non-residents it scores the highest positive image compared to similarly sized or larger communities in North Carolina based on scientific surveys.humility_series_slide

They probably mistake unpretentiousness as weakness just as many people do humility, and just as they may also mistake the boosterish façade of some communities as a reflection of pride or image.

The following description of humility is useful for two reasons.  It comes from another blog by David Brooks and paraphrases comments made by Dr. June Tangney of George Mason University during a panel discussion at the recent convention of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Humility is better seen as the opposite of narcissism. The narcissist has a damaged sense of self and is consequently self-centered a great deal of the time, reacting in defensive ways to ego threat.

The humble person has an accurate and durable sense of self and can see the relationship between the self and the larger world."

Not only does that summary provide a good understanding of humility but it describes why so many narcissistic communities can be so over-reaching and then when unmasked, so defensive, dismissive and condescending.

Just as Durham is unpretentious by nature, other communities can also be narcissistic by nature.  The role of community/destination marketing executives as stewards for protecting and defending a community’s identity against the overreaching and condescension of others is made all the more difficult especially if the news media based in those communities are complicit in this narcissism.

It takes “grit: the perseverance and passion for long-term goals” to stand up for a community in the face of these reactions from another and still nurture and sustain inter-community working relationships and partnerships.  But just remember that any true partnership is founded on mutual respect.

It is also extremely important in the face of a narcissistic reactions by other communities to resist, without fail, any temptation to retaliate in a way that is zero-sum or win-lose. It helps to keep in mind that a narcissistic community reacts with dismissiveness and hostility because deep down it has an almost temporal insecurity.

There will always be individuals in otherwise narcissistic communities who, while they may not know how to overcome that overall trait there, have a more realistic, durable and humble sense of their community and are willing to work together to counterbalance its narcissism.

If you live and work in a community that is inherently unpretentious and humble, not just a “wannabe”, then these explanations are resonating.  If you read this far but are dismissive, then you’re probably part of the problem…and so is your community.

If you didn’t realize that defending and protecting a community’s identity is the most basic and elemental aspect of community marketing, now you do.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Putting Multitasking In Perspective

(Reblogged from Inside Higher Ed and Now You See It)

One of the things I enjoy so much about retirement is more freedom and opportunity than ever to come across people who make Durham such an intriguing place to live.

Below is a very interesting out-take about "multitasking” from a June 24th interview by Serena Golden, an editor at Inside Higher Ed with Duke professor Cathy N. Davidson, author of a soon-to-be released new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

For skimmers, I’ve italicized some comments that were particularly interesting or enlightening to me. 

Q – Serena Golden: You’re critical of recent studies on the impact of multitasking. Why is that, and how do you think the topic could more fruitfully be studied?

A – Cathy Davidson: In many of the hand-wringing and fear-mongering studies reported in the popular press, “multitasking” as a category can be ill-defined, vague, imprecise and subjective. I find it exasperating and belated. We now know there is no such thing as monotasking on a neurological level. Neurons are always firing and the brain is constantly chattering to itself, calling upon different areas at once to respond in ways we are only now beginning to understand. Lately, neuroscientists have begun to take ancient Eastern practices of meditation seriously, since those are founded in the principle that a quiet, resting, contemplating mind is ever-susceptible to distraction: that’s why meditation is a lifelong pursuit, not something you can do just by closing your eyes. The studies that try to make it seem as if multiple external distractions (new e-mail or digital environments) are somehow, in themselves, harming our very brains or shrinking our capacity to pay attention miss the point.

Of course these new practices change our brains in some ways — that’s what learning is. And of course cultural tastes and habits (novels, movies, T.V., video games, etc.) happen all the time. Yet the gloom-and-doom studies make it seem as if we’ve never experienced multiple tasks at once before. They often measure the dire results either through self-reporting (which the gorilla experiment shows us is notoriously inaccurate) or controlled laboratory experiments that have little to do with how we live our lives. Ask an insurance adjuster and you’ll hear that, of course teens texting while driving can have accidents, but if you really want to protect your kid, don’t let him drive with friends in the car. Similarly, the distractions that most often lead to accidents are the fight with your lover, a tenure meeting, hearing a frightening medical diagnosis, or anticipating a job interview. We tend not to think of those things as “multitasking.” Yet physical and emotional distractions — heartburn or heartache — are far more distracting than anything the modern office can throw at us.

History is also useful here. Legislators wanted to prevent Motorola from putting radios in dashboards in 1930 because they thought they would lead to highway catastrophe. Now we know the distraction of the radio helps truckers counteract the monotony of long-distance driving.

When we say “multitasking is bad,” what we are really saying is that certain things are stressing us out and they are making us suddenly aware of behaviors that used to be so reflexive we didn’t even pay attention to them. We see the gorilla, as it were. That’s not always a bad thing. On the other hand, if the issue is that Americans are working too hard at our jobs — and we’re now working more hours per year than our parents did or than their parents did (and more than anyone in the world except South Koreans), then we should be addressing that real problem. Work speed-up and overload has social, economic, political and indeed cognitive consequences. In this situation, multitasking is the smokescreen for a much larger societal problem.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Bull City Rumble – Rockers vs. Mods!

If you’re like me, you stay off the roads during holidays like Labor Day. This year, I’ve marked my calendar to be sure to see the second annual Bull City Rumble, September 2nd and 3rd, 2011.

Similar to most festivals and events in Durham, it will draw an even mix of visitors and residents. This year the Rumble will be held along West Main Street in the Historic Brightleaf District of Downtown Durham with an event Friday night at the Geer Street Garden in the rapidly emerging self-identified NoCo District a few blocks away. These organic, uniquely Durham districts provide the perfect backdrop.Capture

I love the poster this year, especially the logo which also comes on other merchandise such as patches and shirts. It isn’t just because I ride a retro-styled Harley-Davidson Cross Bones, I just like type of vintage vehicle including old farm tractors.

The event features the café racers and scooters from the late 1950s through the 1970s that will be on display at the event. Not American-made bikes like my Harley but English bikes like the Norton my friend Bill Kalkhof tells me he rode in college.

These bikes’ roots trace back over a half a century during a period when Rockers or Ton-Up boys evolved as a biker subculture that originated in Great Britain and spread across Europe. Rockers were also known as “greasers” to Mods (Modernists) who rode customized scooters such as those making comeback now.

Just think Gene Vincent and Be Bop A Lula vs. The Small Faces. The Rolling Stones are more like Rockers. The cross-over Beatles initially dressed like Mods.

The bikes you can see at Bull City Rumble will be “riders”, not “trailer queens” as the producer notes. This will add even more to their authenticity and the event is more than vintage bikes and scooters. It will also feature the vibe of uniquely Durham neighborhood districts and independent businesses and entertainment venues.

Making this event even more organic is that it is partnering with Preservation Durham which will also benefit from the proceeds.

In my best Michael Buffer imitation: Let’s get ready to Rumble!

(Click here for information on visiting Durham including the master calendar of community events.)

What Makes A Place “Real?”

Wallace Stegner wrote that “no place, not even a wild place, is a place until it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry.”

I can imagine that, prior to his passing in 1993, he would have grumbled objection to my characterization that I firmly believe Stegner’s own “prose poetry” did just that for the Rocky Mountain region of my birth.

He is also often quoted by Scott Russell Sanders whose own prose queries the qualities that make a place “real.”

“What are the qualities of a real place, a distinctive place, a place with its own history, culture and texture? What qualities give certain places a feeling of character and charisma? What distinguishes the geography of somewhere, makes it worthy of a visitor’s deep engagement and a citizen’s love?”

Many years ago, I heard Sanders read in person a version of his published essay The Geography of Somewhere while I was sitting on the back row of the historic Elk’s Opera House just up a hill from the town square in Prescott (pronounced “press-cut”), Arizona on the mile-high highlands climbing up to the Grand Canyon.

The actions of many during the last session of the North Carolina General Assembly reminded us that a small faction, which fit conservative columnist David Brooks description of having “no moral decency,” could also care less “what makes a place real,” as they did whatever they could to surrender North Carolina’s environment and sense of place to their own special interests.

Unfortunately, while charged as guardians for sense of place, far too many destination marketing executives nationwide would either have been complicit or failing to grasp what makes a place “real,” would have idly sat on their hands.

As inspiration I share the following excerpts from Sander’s prose entitled The Geography of Somewhere (for those who shun reading, no illustration will suffice):

  • “To begin with, a real place feels as though it belongs where it is, as though it has grown there, shaped by weather and geography, rather than being imported from elsewhere and set down arbitrarily like a mail-order kit.

  • A real place is also distinguished by a vigorous local economy, one that draws on resources from the region [of the country] and on the skills of its own citizens. Key enterprises from factories to coffee shops, reflect the taste and judgment of the local people who own them, rather than the dictates of distant corporations.

  • Visitors will know they have arrived in a real place…when they find in shops well-crafted articles whose makers live nearby, when they discover on restaurant menus dishes they could not order anywhere else…when artists choose not merely to live there but to photograph and paint it, to write and sing of it, when archaeologists and historians delve into its past; when naturalists keep track of the local flora and fauna; and when elders pass on all of this lore to the young.

  • A real place…conveys a sense of temporal depth, a sense that people have been living and laboring here for a long time. The traces of earlier generations are preserved in festivals and folkways and habits of speech; in old buildings that have been restored and kept in service; in landscapes that are still devoted to orchards, dairies, woodlots and other traditional uses…While honoring the past, a real place is not trapped there.

  • A real place keeps us mindful of nature, as it keeps us mindful of history. In the built environment one feels the presence of the living environment…Although we can’t all summon up spectacular settings for our home places, we can make the most of whatever nature gives us.

  • In a genuine gathering place, people from all walks of life may argue and joke and swap stories and admire one another’s babies and sympathize with one another’s aches, all while feeling at home. Indeed, such gathering spots extend our sense of home beyond the four walls where we happen to sleep. The true wealth of a community shows up not in the grandeur of private residences or shopping emporiums but in the quality of libraries, schools, museums, parks, courthouses, galleries and other public arenas.

  • What all of us long for, I suspect, is to love the places in which we live and live in places worthy of love…we hunger for integrity and authenticity.”

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Creatives Need To Re-Join The Pursuit of Innovation!

I wasn’t surprised by the announcement that Durham Arts Council’s Centerfest is taking a year off to be “reinvented.”  The need was evident years ago to volunteers and attendees as knock-offs in other communities became so ubiquitous.

So why has reinvention been delayed?  The ever insightful Bob Lefsetz may have put his finger on part of the problem when he lamented last week about why it seems that “every business is in a mad dash to innovate except for the creative industries…”Capture

Durham is a creative community but that doesn’t mean that every organization is guaranteed to have creative leadership or a creative organizational culture.

Inertia is a factor.  Many organizations in the creative industries, here and across the land and both for-profit and non-profit, appear to be in dire need of reinvention, not just the events they produce, as evidenced by the fact that concerts are aging out and the apparent success of so many venues is betrayed by the cannibalization of others.

Failure by many communities to understand the law of “supply and demand” is another factor.  Far too few evolve and nurture indigenous festival concepts that can add to the distinctiveness of a community.  Far too many just mimic or poach from other communities instead.

But there always seems to be a few people in every community, including Durham, who take festivals for granted or fail to grasp that the “churn” so common in development is toxic to the ecology of events.  These folks relentlessly promote the need for more and more events with little concern for how fragile and dependent the supply of events is on not just audience but underwriting and volunteers.

These folks also grossly underestimate the value of events that are distinct to a community vs. those that merely make it similar to hundreds of others.

Clearly a hiatus for Centerfest would have been timely several years ago when it was displaced from its original, longtime location by the updating of the roadways in the City Center District of Downtown Durham.

And it will not be the last to need reinvention.  I completely agree with Lefsetz that in general creative industries must rediscover their innovative roots or risk stagnation.

However, breathing true creativity and innovation into an event or an organization doesn’t just happen with a brainstorming session or by adding it to a mission statement or purpose or by putting someone on a governing board or even by involving a handful of other community organizations.  To occur it must be a core value embedded in the very DNA of the organization from the top down.

Exemplary Decision-Making Begins In Elementary School

One of the hardest concepts to teach or share with co-workers is the value of collaborative decision-making which was a value in the corporate cultures where I was an executive.Capture

Far too many people got stuck “apprentice” vs. “exemplary” level for decision-making in elementary school  (click here or on the image in this blog) and as a result, they come into the workplace obsessed with being able to make solo decisions vs. collaborating on the “best possible decision.”

In my experience this problem is also far too often apparent in collaborations between organizations when there always seems to be at least one executive who will will try to orchestrate an outcome in advance because he or she fears “their” decision won’t be reached through genuine collaboration with others.

Click here for a good Change Anything blog about how to “play well with others or click on the image in this blog to see a a group work rubric posted on that blog.

Also useful in the Change Anything blog are the seven tips below for learning to work well with others by Susan M. Healthfield who writes about HR on

1) Bring suggested solutions along with problems to the meeting table.

2) Never ever play the “blame game.”

3) Avoid sarcasm and undue criticism at all costs.

4) Never blindside a coworker or boss with complaints.

5) Keep your commitments.

6) Share credit for accomplishments, ideas, and contributions.

7) Help other employees find their greatness.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Hostage To “A Faction With No Sense of Moral Decency”

I learn or unlearn and relearn best by looking at an issue through the lens of someone opposed to that issue.  I’m sure my co-workers and friends always found it annoying.

I picked up the habit around the dinner table growing up.  Usually we were asked not only about our day but about something new we learned.  If we sounded too convinced, we were usually tested to see if there were any alternative viewpoints.

That may be the reason I always had research ready to justify decisions when I was first given executive responsibility in my early 20s.  I already understood that my opinions alone were not sufficient to steward the resources of others.Capture

Playing a game of partisan “chicken” over the national debt limit isn’t new in my lifetime, but in the past when either party opposed it, you always had a sense they knew what was best for the country.

My favorite resource on the consequences of not raising the debt limit comes from an excellent explanation found by clicking on Third Way and illustrated here for non-readers or folks who always use the excuse that they don’t have enough time.

But yesterday conservative columnist David Brooks in a piece entitled The Mother of All No-Brainers put a spotlight on the faction he believes is holding the Republican Party and the nation hostage. He begins by crediting his party for negotiating to erase the debt, most of which was actually accrued on their watch as I’ve seen documented.

Then he zeroes in on the tiny but vocal faction that is placing such a huge “uncertainty tax” on the nation both in the Congress and in state legislatures across the country:

  • “The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms…


  • The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities


  • The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency.  A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money.  But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.


  • The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of a name


  • But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything.  Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation…

He goes on to speak about independent voters such as me, in particular I believe he means post-moderns:

“If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not.  If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused the default.  They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.”

The Relationship of Politics, Religion and Race

Nothing can stir up tension around the family barbeque as much as “politics” and “religion” and for still far too many, “race.”

The results of a new Gallup survey released last Friday show some interesting findings about religiosity, politics and ethnicity especially when viewed through the lens of the new categorization by the Pew Center according to values, political ideology and affiliation.

As a spiritual, post-modern Independent who is proud of his religious heritage but ambivalent about religious organizations, I wasn’t surprised to see that Independents overall divided as 9% very religious, 13% moderately religious and 15% non-religious.

White Americans tend to lean Republican if they are very religious and more toward the Democrats if they are moderately or non-religious.  But the surprise is that very religious Black, Hispanic and Asian Americans are all more likely to identify as Democrats.

Black Americans are 53% “very religious” compared to 45% for Hispanic Americans, 39% for White Americans and 29% for Asian Americans.  They fall in the same order when “moderately religious” respondents are added.

Another survey by the Pew Center reveals that last year, voters’ affiliations varied by type of religion.  While Protestants overall were only +6% Republican, White evangelicals and Mormons were +45% and +52% Republican respectively, while Black Protestants were +81% Democrat.  Political affiliation among Black Americans cannot just be attributed to the election of President Obama.  It has been consistent since at least 1992.

While Catholics overall were only +5% Democrat, Hispanic Catholics were +49% Democrat.  Those affiliated with the Jewish faith and those unaffiliated were +27% and +28% Democrat respectively.

After pulling even in 2007, the percentage of Americans believing Places of Worship should stay out of politics is back up to 52% compared to 54% in 1996.

The only sub-groups of Americans where a majority believe there is too little protestation of faith by political leaders are conservatives, White evangelicals and Black Protestants at 54%, 56% and 51% respectively.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Per Capita Food Use & Waste

This excellent infographic appears in the July 2011 issue of National Geographic.  It illustrates not only the most recent figures on amounts of various food groups purchased per capita in the USA, but also the amount wasted.


Better to Transform Than Whine

I’m sorry but with 14 million Americans out of work, I found it hard to listen to people whining on the news yesterday about the unbearable burden they shoulder by being granted technological access to the office any time they need it or at their convenience – especially while on vacation.

It seems perfunctory now to do such an article one or more times a year near a long holiday weekend. This one was entitled Smartphones Making It Harder To Call It Quits. I’ve heard similar stories for years and now that I’m retired I have even less patience with them.Capture

Having essential tremor in my hands from the time I was very young, technology has always been a solution to anxiety for me. I was so relieved when they let us begin taking tests in law school on typewriter.

I wonder how much better I would do today in taking the SAT, ACT and LSAT now that they let you schedule them in small groups, at convenient times and take them on desktop computers.

If it is as good as touted, Duke professor Cathy Davidson’s new book which will be released August 18th would be a better story. It is entitled Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

Here is a link to a write-up about the book in the July/August issue of Fast Company Magazine in a column by Anya Kamenetz. Davidson is also co-founder of HASTAC (Haystack) – A Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Collaboratory. Click here to follow her blog on HASTAC and click here for her blog about her new book.

A friend mentioned something interesting over coffee last week. She wondered if we’re being sure to re-evaluate ideas for new transportation infrastructure in light of the dramatic technological shifts to things like telecommuting.

Most of our transportation infrastructure is centered around getting people to and from work and transport of goods. We may be working on solutions to yesterday’s problems or tomorrow’s? Just think about all of those vacant bank branch buildings or for that matter Blackberries.

I’m eager to see what Professor Davidson thinks.

Retaining The Equity Of Tradition And Sense Of Place

An illustration of the economic value of sense-of-place and the importance of keeping a brand uncluttered and free from dilution is in the June 27th weekly issue of Sports Illustrated Magazine.

In a day and age when naming rights, sponsorships and advertisements are ubiquitous, in an article entitled All That Glitters Isn’t Sold, journalist and author L. Jon Wertheim takes just more than a page to remind us that there is another way to succeed.

When asked by Wertheim why the Wimbledon Championships brand remains pure and free of corporate logos, courtside billboards, rotating signs and luxury suites, a long-time tournament referee, Alan Mills, “responded with a confused look, ‘If we did that, I suppose it wouldn’t be Wimbledon, would it?’”

Noting that there is “equity in tradition” Wertheim finishes this excellent piece by writing - “Maybe the moral for sports properties is this: Sure, you can make money from selling your soul. But there’s also value in hanging on to it.”

Still, even as the effectiveness of advertising continues a steep, long-term decline, I suspect, just as Mike Golic has prophesied, greed and ego will conspire to wallpaper the uniforms of athletes in the near future much as they do race cars today.

Mr. Wertheim’s eloquence about this important aspect makes me wonder if Jon Wertheim, who grew up in Bloomington the child of an Indiana University, may have come across an essay by another IU professor, The Geography of Somewhere by Scott Russell Sanders.

Monday, July 04, 2011

America Is Far More Discerning Than Color-Coding Suggests

The out-of-date labels thrown about by nearly all politicians pre-date my lifetime and unfortunately they are still the ones predominantly used by the news media.

The categorization of Americans according to values, political beliefs and political party affiliation has been re-sorted by the Pew Research Center five different times in just the last 14 years using scientific surveys.Capture

Results unveiled several weeks ago reflect just how much has changed since 2005.  For non-readers or those required to spoon-feed them, here is a great four and a half minute video.

Below are eight take-aways and below that five potential positives were the news media to adopt this much improved typology:


  • The good news is that only 10% are “bystanders” but that becomes more disturbing when coupled with another 11% of Independents who are disaffected.  Alarmingly 41% of those “disaffected” and 40% of “bystanders” are in the South.


  • Independents such as me are termed “post-moderns.”  Collectively post-moderns are moderate but center-left on social issues and make up 13% of Americans (14% of voters.)  Another group of Independents are “Libertarians” and make up 9% of Americans.


  • “Staunch conservatives” are Republican Tea Partiers and make up 9% of Americans and 11% of voters.  They are outweighed in numbers if not vociferousness by the 14% of the general public including 16% of voters who are “solid liberals” of the Democratic Party.


  • “Main street” Republicans are also conservative but less staunchly and less consistently and they make up 11% of Americans including 14% of voters.  Moderates appear to have vanished from that party, moving more Independent, as the lines have blurred between economic, social and pro-business conservatives.


  • Democrats, while more of the population than Republicans, are far more pluralistic.  In addition to “solid liberals,” 10% of Americans including 9% of voters are “new coalition” Democrats and another 13% of the general public including 15% of voters who are “hard-pressed” Democrats.


  • Revealing how far right most legislators went this past year is the finding that the two Republican groups of conservatives are divided when it comes to opinions about business and the environment.


  • Conservatives and Libertarians along with liberals and all three groups of Independents are predominantly white while “new coalition” and “hard-pressed” Democrats are more diverse.


  • “Post-modern” Independents tend to be younger, conservatives much older.  Conservatives have morphed into a solid bloc giving a misperception much larger than their numbers.

If the news media had the means and diligence to break elected officials down into these groups, rather than just Republican or Democrat or conservative and liberal, I can see at least five positive effects:

  • Revealing the small base of those demanding lock-step allegiance might engender more bipartisanship and greatly reduce grid-lock.


  • It would be far more useful to voters and inform better decisions at the ballot-box.


  • It might re-engage “disaffected” Independents and “bystanders.”


  • It would moderate the influence of lobbyists and better reveal the outsized influence of campaign contributions.


  • It would better inform “sound-bites” and provide a better weighting of those trying to out shout or demonize other groups.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Independence Viewed From My Early 1600s Remonstrant Roots

My preference for quiet, isolated places to stay in touch with my spirituality may have roots that trace back to the dawn of the 1600s and two ancestors born a few hundred miles apart along the edge of the North Sea.

They and their families came to America, one in 1639 when they were 31 years of age and the other in 1643 at 44 years of age, as part of the first handful to settle the area around remote Fort Orange, the site of Albany, New York today. The younger one was a sailor by trade and appears to have made several voyages.

The younger by nine years was born in Husum (or Husem), Schleswig controlled then by Denmark and today the northern most Schleswig-Holstein tip of Germany; the other born in Voorhout in the now idyllic tulip-growing region near Leiden in the southern portion of the province of Holland, one of seven in the newly independent republic, the United Provinces of the Netherlands.

Both of these areas may have been far from idyllic at the time, torn either by external religion-oriented conflicts with Spain or overrun during the death throes of the Holy Roman Empire or from internal conflicts between hardline and flexible Protestants or specifically between hardline and flexible Calvinists.

One and probably both of these men had close association with proponents of the philosophy of a former Calvinist professor at Leiden University, Jakob Hermanszoon, who in their lifetime had put forth a “kinder-gentler” form of Calvinism that believed in free will vs. predestination, decentralized vs. centralized government and the continued peace instead of the resumption of war with Spain.Capture

Known as Remonstrants, they had recently been suppressed and purged or driven underground by hard-line Calvinists. This may have also created a spark of passion in their decedents that resulted in Independence for our nation 137 years later.

While growing up along that stretch of North Sea coastline, these two ancestors would have also witnessed the founding of the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC) and would have read or heard the excitement created when logs of Henry Hudson’s Third Voyage in 1609 were published in 1625 about his exploration of the river in the New World that would be renamed after him.

They had both gravitated to Amsterdam, where four years apart, they were among the first handful to contract to go to the New World by another who studied the Remonstrants, the diamond-maker businessman, agrarian developer and a founder and board member for the Dutch West Indies Company (DWIC), Kiliaen Van Rensselaer.

The families of Jan Fransse van Hoesen (of Husem), aka Heusen, Hossem, Husum and his wife Volkje and Cornelis Segerse van Voorhout (of Voorhout), aka van Egmond because his grandfather had been born in Egmond Castle) and his wife Bergjie were brought together because the DWIC had decided to privatize colonization to patroons (business owners) such as Van Rensselaer.

His agreement with the DWIC was to raise venture capital to assemble land around Fort Orange and then lease it back in a feudalistic model for contract-settlers to farm. The farmers would supply food to the Fort and the Fort would provide protection to the colonists.

Jan Fransee, now Frantz, assembled numerous plots while serving as DWIC land commissioner, eventually to own and farm a large parcel that included the area where the town of Hudson is now. Cornelis Segerse quietly assembled control of the entire Castle Island, the rich, fertile but flood-prone site of a former fort and today the site of Albany’s airport. I suspect he had more than a little experience, of course, with sodden soil due to his years in Holland.

However, these settlers didn’t organize into towns such as the very social English colonists did in Massachusetts or as they had back home where half the population of the Netherlands lived in towns with a population of 30,000 or more. A mix of Dutch and German along with Walloons and French Huguenots in the New World, they forged a new and highly individualistic society.

They resisted the formation of local political authority and lived on separate and distant farms that could grow as large as they wanted while they navigated relationships with Mohawks and other Native American tribes in the area.

They resisted interference from the central government down in Manhattan which was renamed New Amsterdam just as their descendants would, having won Independence more than 140 years later, during discussions of a Constitution for the new United States of America.

They also didn’t all worship in common, building only a small 34 foot by 19 foot church with nine banken or benches in 1643 that wasn’t expanded until 1656 as the population grew to some 210 by 1664. Ironically, as independent as they were, their descendants didn’t rebel against that feudal-like system until after the abolishment of slavery had taken full effect in 1827 based on legislation passed in New York in 1799.

At about that same time as the abolition of slavery in New York, the Remonstrant roots of my ancestors also helped flame The Second Great Awakening that fueled the emergence and growth of so many new religions in central and western regions of that state, one of which would draw together many of my ancestors from various states who then migrated to the Intermountain West along the Oregon-Mormon Trail in the 1840s and 50s.

Those families of Jan and Cornelis obviously socialized enough after their arrival in America in the 1640s for their children, Cornelis Van Voorhoudt and Catalyntze Van Hosen, to marry and become the great-great-great-great great grandparents to my maternal great-great grandfather Thomas Messersmith.

As for my moderate center-left, post-modern Independent political beliefs, maybe those are also rooted back with my ancestors of that time. Immigrating just six years after they did to that part of America was Claes Maarrtenszen van Rosenvelt, an ancestor of two U.S. Presidents, progressive-Republican Theodore Roosevelt and progressive-Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Mystery Shoppers – A Valuable Tool For Community Marketers

In the early 90’s, Durham’s community/destination marketing organization (DCVB) became one of the first to deploy “mystery shoppers” just as federal officials plan to do soon to get a handle on how difficult it is to access healthcare.

Unfortunately, this “best practice” is still far too rarely deployed even though it gives a perspective that can’t be gleaned from satisfaction surveys and complaint logs alone.  And there are more efficient and effective and much less dramatic ways to conduct them than those you see on Undercover Boss.

Periodically over the two decades that I led DCVB my associates regularly deployed “mystery shoppers” for many purposes including but certainly not limited to the eight below:

  • Confirm and improve how our own staff members responded to questions or issues or requests for directions via the telephone or during drop-ins from visitors and meeting planners etc,


  • Improve front-line training for front-desk people at lodging facilities, maître d’s, bartenders, wait-staff, theater and museum greeters, airport and train staff, bus and taxi drivers etc,


  • Confirm the accuracy and then address comments by staff in competitor communities,


  • Confirm and then address comments about Durham from real estate developers and agents to potential newcomers, including those based in nearby communities,


  • Confirm and improve how airline ticket agents, gate agents and reservationists referenced the co-owned airport and answered questions about Durham,


  • Confirm and then address how effectively public sector, non-profit-sector and private sector entities processed questions for visitor information and referrals to the visitor information center,


  • Confirm and address the information related to Durham and Durham locations provided by taxi dispatchers and drivers including the efficiency of point to point routing and to document illegal use of out-of-town cabs, and


  • Confirming and address the information given in response to questions by students and potential faculty on university campuses and in public schools.

We picked up on mystery shoppers as a best practice that had been pioneered by retailers.  All we did differently was to apply community-wide at every visitor touch point.  Today they often involve video-taping as well as telephone and in-person shops.

It is imperative that the “mystery shoppers” be from out of town so their eyes and ears are fresh.  But their effectiveness depends on giving them not only questions to ask but the appropriate answers so they can ask follow up clarifications.

The results are anecdotal, even if as we did, numerous “shops” are conducted simultaneously or sequentially in each category.  However, they are invaluable as a means to glean how your community is being presented to every type of visitor including newcomers and relocating executives.

“Mystery shops” are even more imperative in a community like Durham where one in three jobs is held by non-residents commuting in from nearby communities to work.  This condition intensifies the need for frequent monitoring as well as follow-up intervention, training and familiarization.

As with anything, what you put into preparation for “mystery shoppers” can make all the difference in how useful the results can be.

Community/destination marketing at its essence begins with defending and promoting the community’s identity.  To do this effectively, especially as traditional tactics such as advertising have declined so dramatically in effectiveness impotent, it is essential to monitor, understand and improve communications by and about your community across a broad range of internal and external audiences.