Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Two-Edge Sword of Drive and Passion

My Dad was discharged from the Army by 1946 and returned from Germany to reunite with my Mom and resume ranching.  Two years later they had me.

Ranching never really slows down but during the winters he found time each week to head 20 miles from our ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho up into Targhee National Forest to snow ski at Bear Gulch.

He continued to ski into his 70s.

Bear Gulch is long gone now, but in 1938 when my Dad was in high school and just two years after the creation of Sun Valley, it became Idaho’s second ski area.

While I was growing up, there were remnants of one of two old chair lifts there,  which had been two big, 5’ x 16’ flat-bottomed sleds that together carried up to 14 skiers seated side-ways.

Very cool but by the time I was coming up “the Bear” only had a T-bar and a Rope Tow, at least until I was in high school.  When I was 10 years old, a day pass cost $2.50 and a full season no more than a good steak dinner does now.

By the time I was two or three years of age, so I am told, I began appealing to him to take me along.  So the winter after I turned 4 years old he insisted that if I was to go I had to learn to snowplow first.

Late one afternoon, after we had used a huge, horse-drawn sleigh to take feed out to our cattle, Dad took me to the steep hill that abruptly rose across Sand Creek just behind our horse barn.

Across a narrow gully, I could see the Ora Cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried, an inhold-commons carved out and given by my great-grandparents to the county.

Until well after dark, I remember marching repeatedly up that hill, skis and poles bundled in my arms, and then repeatedly trying to learn to snowplow down to the bottom.

It didn’t go very well.

My Dad, who was still in his 20s at the time, only knew one reaction to a range of emotions, whether fear, sadness, frustration, or anger.

And that was intensity.

I learned to ski that day and got my wish, but it would be ten more years before I would finally learn to love it like he did.

My mom, who was not yet 25 years old, was furious that night when we finally stomped the snow off our boots on the back porch after that first lesson out behind the barn.

Both parents had good reason to try and breathe fire into me.  Food allergies after birth had meant moths of projectile vomit and crying. Doctors feared my condition was failure to thrive.

I weighed less than I did when I was born a healthy 8+ pounds, when during a vicious snowstorm, my parents couldn’t find my formula and soon discovered that whole milk agreed with me.

But I am sure the trauma of those first six months lingered and may have led them to become intense whenever it came to teaching me to work through challenges.

My youngest sister, who came along when I was six, still kids me that as she was growing up, I would often put her through the lessons I had learned in R.M. Bowman boot camp (smile.)

This may be one of the reasons my middle sister retreated to her room so often when we were growing up.

The ability or willingness to work through challenges may have been my parent’s greatest gift to me, although I often gave them reason to worry well into my 20s.

It is one of the handful of skills known as “executive functions,” which act as an air traffic control system for others. They are crucial to learn by the time you are five or six and one of the hallmarks researchers have found that separate achievers from those who struggle or give up.

It is also one of the five attributes that Gallup, after more than 15 years of study, finds that distinguish those in the workforce who are more engaged from those who are less engaged:

  • loyal to the organization
  • willing to put forth discretionary effort
  • willing to trust and cooperate with others
  • willing to work through challenges
  • willing to speak out about problems and offer constructive suggestions for improvements

Based on my four decades as a CEO and a few prior as a supervisor, it would be impossible to argue with this research or to rank them in any order.  They are also very hard to teach to adults, although the organizations I led had some success inculcating the last attribute into our culture.

Working through challenges includes the ability to persevere through disappointments.  My parents may have breathed a bit too much fire into me as a preschooler because one of the things I had to work hardest to hone during my career was how to convey disappointment to coworkers.

At my most proficient, I doubt I reached more than a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 but I did learn to hire a second who had that gift.

Throughout nearly my entire career, the consultants I found most useful to both me and the organizations I led were specialists in organizational behavior.

Dr. Wes Harper, then an RHR consultant based in Portland, was an organizational behavior psychologist we used during my 1980s stint in Alaska.

Then in my mid-30s, he gave me an invaluable insight: to be more aware of the impact I had on people in my presence.

Still striving as though I was that 4 year old going up and down that hill behind our barn, I was unaware that my incredible drive could be a two-edge sword.

Peter Bergman is a similar consultant whose writings I find enlightening, even in retirement.  He posted on this week that, “If you’re a high-performing, impatient leader, supporting others during tough times can be particularly hard for you to do.”

He continues, “It’s hard because your natural, knee-jerk response to underperformance is anger, directed at yourself and others.”  Read the post, but his point is that while accountability is important, if these employees are high performers, “awareness and accountability aren’t their problems.

“What is?  Regaining enough confidence to take necessary risks to succeed after failure.”  When addressing “underperformance,” one of the four tips by Bergman, is to do what is important to any crucial conversation and “decide on the outcome you want” as well as the relationship going forward.

As tough as my Dad seemed through the eyes of a cold and wet 4-year-old on that makeshift ski hill, he and my Mom obviously also understood how to help me regain enough confidence to take the necessary risks to succeed after failure.

Unfortunately, 70% of adults at any stage in the workforce are simply disengaged, nearly 20% of whom are actively disengaged according to Gallup.  This also applies to managers.

Good management can tweak engagement but it can’t overcome mindset.  Even praise can cause someone with a “fixed” mindset to freeze up even more.

But the real answer is good parenting about two decades before they reach the workforce.

I never had the opportunity to be much of a parent but I sure had two incredible examples and I see one in my daughter.  As a society, if we really want to instill those five Gallup attributes above, the point of intervention is not school, but in those first five years of parenting.

I was lucky.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Attributes For Serving On Governing Boards

I became a CEO in my mid-20s, at a very young age, albeit for an organization still in start-up.

Friends have always kidded me that it must have been nice not having a boss for all but a handful of years during my long ago concluded four-decade career.

But I always had bosses.  They were governing boards of rotating directors to whom I was accountable that always included a member or two who didn’t understand or accept that a board only gives direction as a whole, not as individuals.

Even a chair person couldn’t give direction without direction provided by the board as a whole.  Often the most difficult transition for some board members is from the managerial or owner role in their own organizations to one of oversight as part of a group.

Unfortunately, few of us are vetted for even minimal attributes and skills, such as critical and strategic thinking or how to run a meeting before being appointed or elected to governing boards.

An article in the current issue of Harvard Business Review about where boards in general fall short, made me think back to how fortunate I was to have so many great board members given the agendas of some individuals and how and why they were appointed.

Only 16% of the directors surveyed thought the boards they served on understood the dynamics of the industries in which their organizations were involved and only 22% believed their boards knew how their organizations created value.

The community destination marketing organizations (DMOs) that I served were especially complex because they function as intermediaries between external stakeholders and internal stakeholders including a whole sector of different industries.

That a board member comes from one of the front line stakeholder industries is no guarantee they will understand the overall sector, let alone the transcendent purpose of visitor-centric economic and cultural development: to broaden the local tax base while guarding unique sense of place inherent to the communities they serve.

This is why being teachable is an important attribute for potential governing board members.

As the authors note, the two codified core aspects of fiduciary responsibilities of board members include loyalty to the organization, “placing the organization’s interest ahead of one’s own,” which includes outside special interests.

The other is prudence, ensuring that “the proper care, skill and diligence is applied to business decisions.”  The authors note that there is nothing to suggest that the “role of loyal and prudent directors” is to pressure management to maximize” short term interests.

Yet, in my experience, this is what special interests relentlessly seek.   Examples of this in community destination marketing organizations are when elected officials or facility managers try to pressure a DMO to substitute short term objectives such as subsidizing groups to use certain facilities or to fill hotel rooms or and seats near term.

The far more valuable strategic purpose of a DMO is to safeguard a communities indigenous sense of place and to fuel the overall local business climate so as to broaden the tax base.

This generates far greater overall revenues than if used instead to merely close the short term operating deficits of a few public or private facilities.

Organizations with self-appointed boards, unless the nomination process is truly democratic, as in the first two organizations I led, can still be rife with directors there to serve their own interests or those of cronies or cabals.

But publicly appointed boards, such as those I worked under the last half of my career, have their own set of challenges, especially as happened to several of the boards to which I answered, when an elected official or two deliberately pushed the appointment of a board member they hoped would undermine the organization from within.

What would lead a public official to do this?  Avarice.

Unfortunately, very little attention is paid in government to generating revenue, which many officials believe comes only by raising the rate of taxation.  Instead, they spend nearly all of their time focused on spending, or dividing up the pie or even worse shell games.

This is how elected officials or administrators can come to see the short term, such as eliminating the operating deficit on a facility that was always expected to run a deficit as more important than spending that amount on marketing the overall destination which would generate a return of six times that amount.

But short term thinking is not unique to elected governing boards.  It is the same strategic failure that forces many publicly traded companies to sacrifice long term value for short term payouts.

The authors of “Where Boards Fall Short” contend that board members must focus on long term strategy.  They further state that “what matters most is the quality and depth of the strategic conversations that take place.”

Unfortunately, being strategically inclined is rarely, if ever, given consideration when appointing members to governing boards probably because fewer than 14% of Americans are strategically inclined.

The word inclined is used because this is a talent, a propensity, more than a skill, making it difficult to learn or teach.  I suspect, when they are strategically inclined, CEOs spend far more than the 1% to 3% of the time most CEOs do on average with strategy.

Unfortunately, the same is probably true of many governing boards, where members arrive late, leave early and complain about prep time to read materials and reports prior to the meetings, let along delve into strategic conversations.

Appointing or electing governing board members is as great a responsibility as serving on one.  Here are a handful of important attributes to keep in mind:

  • 30% of the entire workforce in America is truly engaged.  Half just show up and go through the motions.  Nearly 20% are troublemakers.

Rarely is someone who is disengaged in other areas of their life going to suddenly become engaged as a member of a governing board.  Make being engaged a pre-requisite to appointment.

Beware of organizations who seek benchwarmers.  Appoint board members who are strategically inclined and who will be eager students of the organization’s mission and environment.

  • Recalibrate the size of governing boards.  Experts now believe the size of a non-profit board functions best with five members.  Poor governance increases with board size.
  • Appoint board members who reflect the values of the organizations.  If that is fund-raising, appoint fund-raisers.  If that is volunteerism, appoint activists.  If that is being information driven, appoint members who understand and appreciate analytics.
  • Appoint members who understand and embrace ethics and compliance not people who see ethics only as a boundary to be skirted.  There is a reason compliance is no longer housed in legal departments in corporations.

Most importantly, appoint people to governing boards who are or can be in synch with an organization’s culture, values and mission, who want to move it forward, not pull it back, and who know how to resist special interests including their own individual interests.

Monday, February 23, 2015

How Misinformation Becomes Worldview

I was stunned recently to hear two friends say (independently) that they believe groups like ISIS are representative of the views of Muslims in general.  But then, soon after, came the results of a Lifeway Research poll showing that 27% of Americans hold that view.

This includes nearly a third of men and half of evangelical pastors.  Fortunately, 43% of Americans including more than half of those between the ages of 18 and 34, grasp that “true Islam creates a peaceful society.”

It is a view held by only 23% of evangelical pastors, a fact made apparent when Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, bullied Duke officials into calling off a plan for Muslin students use the otherwise ecumenical Duke Chapel for a call to prayer.

Is it just me or do some apples fall far,far from the tree?

The supposed rationale was because extremist Muslims persecute Christians, therefore we should retract our values, forgetting that extremist Puritans killed early Quakers here when the paint wasn’t even dry yet on the first settlements by Europeans.

It brought to mind the phrase, “God is great, beer is good and people are crazy!” (coined by country songwriter Troy Jones while thinking of three things most people wouldn’t argue with.)

On our quick trip back to the Pacific Northwest a week ago I was equally puzzled to hear one of my two sisters, while expressing joy that one of her preschool grandchildren already knows the pledge of allegiance, followed it with the qualifier, “especially now that it is prohibited in schools.”

I had to bite my tongue to keep from blurting, “Where did you ever get that idea?” But I already knew the answer.

I don’t believe that either of those viewpoints is remotely factual, but I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  During the last half of my now concluded four-decade career in community destination marketing, I became a student of how misinformation diffuses through populations.

Because negative or misinformation is so much more powerful that positive or factual information, this may be the most overlooked understanding in that profession.

My introduction, though, was in my early 20s while writing up some research I had conducted for an upper level folklore class at BYU, which documented how misinformation spreads through a society and begins to even contaminate news stories and public policy.

The research dealt with the propensity of people to take bits of information and project them to extreme conclusions.  To adapt words by Bill Moyer, this “harmonizes or re-harmonizes our lives from time to time” with our stories.

Often, as in the case of my research on some events that occurred in 1970, this can lead people to “inversed projection,” where people subconsciously rationalize a contradiction to their life view by painting themselves as the victim.

Thus, a few states giving schools and students the option for daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance becomes “prohibiting the pledge of allegiance.”

It is also how protecting a person’s religious freedom to skip repeating the words “under God” becomes rearticulated as taking religion out of schools, even though those words were not even added to the pledge until 1954, more than 60 years after it was written.

Forcing a minority (8%) to repeat those words is rationalized as somehow protecting religion, even though revered U.S. Presidents such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln preferred “Creator” to the word God.

From a community marketing standpoint, a clear understanding of information diffusion includes knowing where and when to interrupt feedback loops of misinformation, much as “deep brain stimulation implants” are used to interrupt tremors that cause feedback loops in people.

On our trip last week, I noticed how RDU International Airport is still enabling misinformation about the region of North Carolina where we live.

Even though the airport is located in Morrisville, midway between the destination co-owners of Durham and Raleigh, two distinct cities and metro areas that co-anchor a polycentric region, airport tenants are still being allowed to misinform the vast majority of travelers through the airport by suggesting the airport is in Raleigh.

Hertz shuttle buses are emblazoned Raleigh, the Starbucks shop offers only “Raleigh” mugs across from the newsstand that offers only Raleigh t-shirts.  Airline personnel on arrival and departure invariably use Raleigh repeatedly in announcements.

This will only be corrected when a critical mass of Raleigh officials, community leaders and airport authority members, as well as airport staff, speak up against the inequity and misinformation.

It is a true test of regionalism as a family of distinct communities that each has the other’s back.  Otherwise, regionalism is nothing more than a euphemism hegemony.

Until then, the airport is a huge enabler for diffusion of misinformation about this area, undermining visitor promotion, inconveniencing visitors, contributing to unnecessary commutes, misleading news editors, mischaracterizing geography and fostering favoritism.

The hyphenated name alone is cause enough for confusion as it was for a Jeopardy game show contestant last Thursday:

Question: This hyphenated city in North Carolina is home to Wake Forest University.
Answer: What is Raleigh-Durham?
WRONG! (Winston-Salem, the correct answer is the name of a hyphenated city.)

Raleigh-Durham is simply the name of a co-owned airport.  But it illustrates how misinformation can leap into mainstream use if not addressed.

Long ago, community marketing organizations and chambers of commerce through this vast polycentric area agreed on how airport tenants should brand RDU and the communities it serves but when presented to airport management it was vetoed along with a snide notation toward me that I wasn’t supposed to see.

As co-owners, Durham elected bodies and municipal management could easily demand that this be corrected, but they haven’t despite being nudged repeatedly by residents as influential as the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, nor have the Durham appointees to the airport authority.

Even under new management, misrepresentation of the airport and the region persists.  Fortunately, a small fraction of visitors to any community travel by air and this holds true for the dozens of communities served by RDU.

Even the majority of business travelers arrive via highway or rail.  But RDU’s complacency regarding tenant mischaracterization does impact an average of 26,000 people each day, half of whom are baffled and half of whom are either angry or oblivious.

Is it possible that Raleigh advocates are doing more than endorsing the misinformation by their silence?

Is it possible they otherwise consciously or unconsciously endorse the misinformation as a way to harmonize with their centric world view?  Unconsciously, are they rationalizing it by inversely projecting themselves somehow as being the victim?

Is the answer one that would enlighten us all as to why so many of us tolerate bigotry of other kinds, either by avoidance as Durham officials are doing with misrepresentation at the airport or passive-aggressiveness as Raleigh officials appear to do?

It makes me wonder, is mass deep brain stimulation the only option?

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Void Desecrating North Carolina

I didn’t realize until I saw one while driving cross country, that Rodeway Inns were still in existence.  One of my summer jobs in 1966 prior to college had been moving the furnishings into a brand new Rodeway Inn.

Actually there are still 150 in existence.  At one located above the Clanton Road interchange to I-77 in Charlotte, North Carolina, the owner just illegally clear-cut hundreds of publicly owned trees, ostensibly to make the aging facility more prominent.

That carnage is about 3 miles south of where we will be staying this weekend to have dinner with several friends over in Dilworth and Myers Park districts where the value of trees is made paramount.

But visibility is not that particular Rodeway’s problem.  It has been rated barely a 1.5 out of five possible stars by former guests.

It is a mistake that leads so many visitor related business to defiantly still advertise on roadside billboards, which in North Carolina, have now been given permission by the legislature to clear cut publicly owned trees with impunity, with no recompense to Tar Heels, and then to sell the wood to cover the cost of cutting them down.

It has enabled a torrent of illegal cutting by businesses across the state including Durham where we live.

Now a bill has been introduced in the State legislature to eliminate the NCDOT Roadside Division (see section 2.4 h at link), further beheading any enforcement to prevent illegal cutting and making the likelihood of reforestation nil.

In doing so, legislators would eliminate the division responsible for scenic byways and the award-winning wildflower program along Interstates.

Visitor-related businesses that defiantly use the billboards and enable desecration of the very North Carolina brand upon which they must rely are now joined in that irony by many in the legislature who seek to do likewise, while giving lip service to attracting economic development.

All of this is taking place as studies show that the percentage of consumers and businesses in America that find billboards useful has fallen to less than two-tenths of one percent while 8-out-of-10 drivers and passengers view them merely as blight.

In other words, even if traditional advertising had not fallen to a negative return on investment overall, the turn-off to turn-on ratio for billboard advertisers is tantamount to throwing money into the wind.

Of course, special interests began to deploy copious amounts of campaign donations fifty years ago to undermine highway beatification legislation in America and today even gatekeepers seem under the influence of Stockholm syndrome.

Recently, the Federal Highway Administration humorously declared that digital billboards that change every few seconds are not considered to be, well, intermittent which would make them unsafe and illegal.

The science used or lack thereof was quickly debunked by an independent peer review but it has been nearly 35 years since that agency was proactive in defense of roadside forests owned by taxpayers, having been throttled by special interest influence with lawmakers.

Durham is considering doing an inventory which, if done according to best practices, will include the city and the county and its entire urban forest canopy, not just publicly owned.

The results will give officials, residents and private property owners sticker shock when the value of this part of the community’s green infrastructure is finally appraised.

North Carolina is back in the “dark ages” when it comes to appraising the value of its roadside forests, deeming the value to be that of use as pulp.

Professionals who appraise the value of trees are about to get a much needed update when the 10th edition of The Value for Plant Appraisal is released.

A recent study documented that nationwide, 4 million trees are lost each years in urban environments.  Durham’s trees are beloved by residents but within the city, overall tree canopy has fallen now to less than 5% above the national average.

Neil Norton, who heads the Georgia Arborist Association, an organization dedicated to increasing the availability of professional arborists to Georgians, recently published a post about why accurately valuing trees is important.

He reminds us that the reason communities such as Durham have tree retention and preservation ordinances is to encourage better design of developments.  Left uninformed about the value of trees, decisions about design are driven by bankers given to cookie cutter designs.

While state officials have been busy sacrificing North Carolina’s curb appeal for not only tourism but the more than 80% of newcomers and relocating executives and business expansion scouts who secretly come as visitors first, cities have been going in the opposite direction.

As noted in The Atlantic’s Citylab last week by Deborah Snoonian Glenn, if you want your city to thrive, look to its trees.  This is not only for health and curb appeal but because they are good for business.

A gap in the otherwise incredible scientific documentation in this regard is the influence of trees on visitor-centric economic development.

Unfortunately, even that may not prevent what that Rodeway owner did in Charlotte.  Only by making the punishment truly match the crime will some businesses think twice.

When they do, rather than blaming the tree canopy for their woes, they may realize how desperately they are needed and turn attention to far more critical metrics for customer satisfaction.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

One Last Gift

We just got back from a quick weekend trip to the Pacific Northwest.  Actually, it takes seven hours each way by commercial flight, about eight hours including the drive north to where one of my two sisters and brothers-in-law live in Snohomish County, Washington.

It is also where my Mom lived the last few months of her life.  The trip had been planned before her passing to celebrate what would have been her 86th birthday.  Instead it was now in part to honor her life but also so I could process a gift she had left with my name on it.

It left an impression on my grandsons to see how much the gift meant to me as I sorted through and re-boxed sixty pounds of family history papers and undiscovered family photos for shipment to Durham, North Carolina where we live.

Many of these items I had never seen before.

Included were the names of each of the schools she attended and her last report card, given just before she dropped out of high school to elope with my Dad who was leaving to join a tank battalion in WWII.

She was 16 years old and he had just turned 21.  Seeing the name of one of the witnesses who accompanied them up over the continental divide to Bozeman, where she listed her age as 18, gave me insight into the urgency they felt.

Frances Bowman had been married to my dad’s cousin and best friend, when six month before the B-26 in which he was flying as tail gunner was blown up by anti-aircraft fire during a bombing run just north of Venice, Italy to cut German Army supply routes.

To my parents at the time, life had obviously taken on a very short horizon.

Included in the material she left for me was a WWII ration card from where she had gone to live with her maternal grandmother Lizzie Messersmith in Denver where her youngest uncle, John, was playing and teaching guitar.00079_p_10aeuyf6sw0443

I found some humorous things as I sorted through the materials before re-boxing them for shipment including a note in my Mom’s handwriting reminding us upon her death to cancel auto shipments of shampoo etc. from QVC.

There were also several letters I had written home to my parents dated 1968 and postmarked in the months just before and after my 20th birthday that my daughter, and only child, got a kick out of reading.

It is priceless to have such a personal glimpse of your parents lives prior to your birth.

There was also a small card given to my parents immediately after my birth, labeled “Baby Boy Bowman” and giving the hospital room number, time of birth, weight at birth and the name of the doctor, Joe Hatch.

My parents had rushed fifty miles south of our ancestral ranch in the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho, down the Henry’s Fork River to the nearest hospital in Idaho Falls, just south of where it joins the South Fork to form the Snake River.

There is as much regarding my Dad’s history as hers in the papers she left for me to preserve for posterity, including a photo of him (shown in this post) when he was twenty one that she had carried in her wallet until they dissolved their 36 year union when all of us were grown and out of the nest.

Many of the photos dating to her youth include priceless negatives.

I have begun to do something my parents inspired with my grandsons now that it is clear they have a passion and respect for heirlooms, passing down a huge elk antler I found during my first cattle round up, a pocket knife my grandfather gave to me, currency and coins their great grandfather brought back from WWII.

Likewise, my Mom had already distributed some family artifacts to my sisters.

The huge box of papers and photos on their way cross country to me comes with a responsibility.  She wanted me to digitize them for broader access by my siblings and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as posterity yet to come.

She also expected that I would use them to weave narratives around the ancestors they depict, including her final call to me reminding me to write the history of her youngest brother who was less than seven years older than me.

For good measure, she had also had my sister follow up to reinforce the promise I had made to my grandfather when my uncle was killed flying for the DEA in 1973 the year after I graduated from college and just before my daughter was born..

He was more like an older brother to me, teaching me to ride his hand-me-down, rusty, balloon-tired bike down the steep graveled hill that ran from the family cemetery my great-grandparents had deeded to the county to the gate into our ranch.

Working part time on the ranch one summer just after the Korean War, he had taught me how to build model airplanes and later interested me in marketing, a degree he earned at Utah State University in 1963 while working his way through school by delivering milk to homes each morning.

But flying a fighter plane was his passion, and he did just that as a highly decorated F-4 squadron leader while flying more than 300 missions over heavily defended North Vietnam during three tours during that war.

It was his phone calls and letters as well as heart to heart talks between tours that finally blunted my relentless drive to also fight in that war, warning me that American atrocities there were not limited to My Lai, turning me against that conflict while in college.

Within six years of that war’s end, an effort was made to recast that war as a noble lost cause, just as the South did immediately after the Civil War.

But today, we know from documentation in the book entitled Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam that my uncle was right.  Atrocities there were a failure of command and touched every unit deployed.

Our revulsion at the atrocities of ISIS and a commitment to face down this criminality should be fueled not only by righteousness but by a sense of our own past rationalizations.

I promise this is not the history I promised to write about my uncle who a few years after he left the Air Force became only the 18th DEA special agent killed in the line of duty as a pilot while fighting the Dominguez cartel.

Hidden away in the papers my mom left for me was his wallet from the day he crashed including papers he was using undercover and a photo of the way he looked taken for a special permit to fly back and forth across the border with Mexico.

He was not yet 31 years old but the history I will undertake will go far deeper than his heroism to the unrequited love of a black sheep including the flaws that make him so complex.

It may take me years to properly digitalize as well as mine the treasure my mom left for me and put it in context for future generations.  My uncle’s story will be one of many.

May I be as prescient and generous on behalf of future generations as she was.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The 400% Increase In Workplace Skills

Destination marketing a community is more complicated than marketing a specific business or organization.

Community destination marketing organizations (DMOs) such as those I managed are intermediaries.  They have no control over the communities they market requiring that a lot of time be spent cajoling stakeholder businesses, strategic partners and officials to align.

Few, if any, of these stakeholders have any clue about marketing let alone sense of place, but usually they think they do, making alignment far more complicated than it may sound and a never-ending process.

And you thought herding cats was difficult.

Residents are the ultimate internal stakeholders for a DMO, especially those who are passionate about their community, but if they only knew that the greatest obstacles to marketing a community comes from those they assume would be the first to get on board.

Workplace skills needed for community marketing range far beyond what people think of as marketing including analytics, project management, technology, strategy-making, critical thinking and organizational behavior, to name a handful.

Also required is a working knowledge of areas such as archeology, history, physiography, consumer psychology, geology, financing, culture, ecosystems and authenticity.

Just in the first 18 months after I retired more than five years ago in late 2009, skills needed in the workplace increased more than 400% from 178 to 924.

This is also why experts see the future of higher education including periods of intensive competency-based education and re-education while in the workforce, something my last organization began to provide to staff with an online program in 2005.

Each employee was able to take up to 20 courses annually selecting from over 3,000 titles, each followed by an online test to demonstrate competency.  But supervisors and direct reports selected some courses in support of specific roles that could be taken during the workday.

The inability to adapt to this need for competency-based workplace education is what led disruptive innovation guru Dr. Clayton Christensen a few years ago to predict that within 15 years, half of the universities and colleges in America could be in bankruptcy.

He didn’t mean that the need for traditional higher education will decline but that the way it will be accessed is rapidly shifting in a way that may leave thousands of smaller colleges as well as many state institution behind.

A leader in this movement to competency-based education for students already in the workforce is Westminster College, a few blocks from where my daughter and grandsons live.

Another is Southern New Hampshire University which redesigned its entire business administration program into modules that provide an innovative, competency-based, three year bachelor’s degree  but  this is all a topic for another essay.

A litmus test I often used to quickly detect how much someone really knew about marketing a community is if they still lobbied for mass marketing such as traditional print, radio and television, dating them by at least three decades.

That’s when, as research shows, marketing shifted away from how many eyeballs you reached to reaching the right eyeballs, not by “shouting” to get attention with traditional ads but earning attention through astute “content marketing.”

Long ago, reaching just the right consumers right at the time when they wanted the information through tools such as search engine optimization and Google adwords transcended traditional advertising.

Savvy marketers today understand that 20% of their efforts produce 80% of their results and similarly 20% of their customers or prospects represent 80% of their success.

The fact that I came early to this awareness in my forty year career is due to listening to astute elders in destination marketing who understood how fast things were changing.

The challenge in marketing is to cast more and more narrowly in order to zero in on the most likely and highly engaged prospects - without interrupting them - until they are seeking information to make a decision and it is clear your destination or product is what they want.

Now, according to studies, marketers are investing in “retargeting” or re-engaging users who have already accessed content about a destination or product via an app or mobile website.  Research shows that for every $1 invested in retargeting there is an incremental increase of $4 in sales.

It works best when focused on prospects who are already engaged.  A mistake many marketers make is viewing it as “missionary” work when at its very essence; it is more like gardening than hunting, more cultivating engagement than casting nets.

For retargeting to work, you need engagement and that begins with great content that zeroes in on what marketing intelligence (research) has identified as traits of greatest appeal to a specific audience.  Even more importantly, you must be willing to accept that your product isn’t for everyone and stop “yelling” to get attention such as with billboards.

The key objective to content marketing, which began its transcendence three decades ago, is to provide something of value focused around differentiation.

A form of retargeting can be seen in action when you leave a website to search another related to the same objective and an ad pops up with the opportunity to return to a deeper link on the earlier site.

The percentage of marketers overall that spend up to 50% on retargeting has doubled in the last year.  Nearly three-quarters (71%) of marketers spend between 10 to 50% of their digital marketing budgets on retargeting.

As marketing has been for more than three decades now, segmentation of those who access marketing content is at the core of retargeting.

Retargeting will be more of a challenge for community marketing organizations (DMOs) because they are intermediaries.  The actual transactions take place with stakeholder businesses and organizations but it can be done.

As one chief marketing officer, Adam Berke, noted recently, marketing placement has evolved from “guess and check” to real-time programmatic campaigns that leverage engagement to ROI.

So the next time you pass by a community still using traditional media such as outdoor billboards, wave hello to a real live “dinosaur.”

Also certain is that as much as I appear to keep up with destination marketing since retirement, I became a “dinosaur” the day I walked out the door.

The same can be said for today’s college graduates.  A degree is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Step Forward For Durham Trees, Maybe

My long ago adopted hometown of Durham, North Carolina justifiably prides itself on consistently garnering what is very likely the broadest range of accolades for a community of any size while also managing to cling to its sense of place.

So it has always been puzzling when officials let the community fall so far behind in areas near and dear, according to opinion polls, to Durham residents.

I suppose it is because thirty angry people haven’t shown up to meetings in orange shirts waving pitchforks (smile.)

There is an unfortunate tendency among elected bodies and executives at every level now to only move to action based on a vocal (or email) demonstration of anger (or at the request of special interests) rather than thinking strategically about what is best for everyone in the long term.

See for yourself.  Ask officials why they haven’t addressed something and you’ll be amazed how often you hear that it is because no one has brought it up or been upset about it.

One of the three areas where Durham has uncharacteristically fallen so far behind despite sentiment from a majority of residents just took the beginning of what could be a big step forward last month thanks to as request by the City Council initiated by Council member Steve Schewel.

The Joint City-County Environmental Affairs Board (EAB) issued a set of recommendations a few weeks ago that is consistent with earlier legislative priorities submitted by the Durham Appearance Advocacy Group, an independent coalition.

The report was assembled very quickly and under the circumstances is well crafted.  Though certainly not encyclopedic in scope, it is somewhat comprehensive in breadth.

From here the recommendations will hopefully be discussed in strategic meetings and then with any luck make it into the budget.  Frankly, I am heartened just to see it get attention.

I am puzzled, though, at to why the report deals only with the City portion of the tree canopy rather than county-wide as the joint city-county mandate of the EAB would have suggested.

Because it included a number, several news reports I read seemed to focus only on a recommendation that City government increase tree planting to 1,680 trees annually on its own property over the next 20 years, just to keep pace.

But that amount wouldn’t be enough to replace the trees along a tenth of a mile of the street where I live or to replace a day and half worth of the trees sacrificed each year to development here.

My calculated guess, based not only on information received from urban forestry but the average number of acres transformed each day to impervious surface,is that county-wide Durham should be planting more in the neighborhood of 8,000 to 9,000 trees a year.

But the number needed can be reconciled by implementing the first recommendation in the report, if performed holistically and according to best practices.

This seemingly far more strategic recommendation in the report is that the City adopt a proactive Urban Forest Master Plan including a city-wide inventory.

But then it seems the wording becomes contradictory to best practices for tree inventories and master plans of this type when city-wide and public property are used in the same sentence.

This inconsistent wording is reflective of differences of opinion among city administrators deep in the department responsible for urban forestry about whether to follow best practices or dumb down expectations to address only city property.

I suspect the primary author knew that inventories and master plans of this type deal with the entire tree canopy across every type of property but that a reviewer somewhere in the chain plopped in “public property” as a means to dumb down expectations.

It has been observed that this difference of opinion regarding scope among bureaucrats may be the chief reason Durham’s urban forest infrastructure has fallen into such neglect over the years.

Whether Durham finally addresses this neglect may come down to City Council members familiar with this critical difference and willing to be strategic.

Urban forestry experts at the highest level are clear:

“Comprehensive urban forest management considers all trees and associated elements across the entire jurisdiction to adequately address a heterogeneous landscape held by numerous land owners. A first step in developing a proper management plan is to assess the current composition and distribution of a community’s trees…”

The report also lists a few communities as best practices, chosen for proximity, to preempt comments such as “Durham isn’t (fill in the blank)” if truly best practice communities had been noted.

While residents overwhelmingly believe Durham is “where great things happen,” we must always remember that two our of every three people working here - including those working in local government - don’t live here, making it seem as though Durham doesn’t believe in itself or expects less than “great things.”

I say, “Bless their hearts,” to use a southern euphemism for “How pathetic!” or worse (smile.)

It is also very puzzling that the report deals only with the city, rather than the entire single-city county of Durham, the purview of the joint EAB which issued the report.

It is hard to believe the nature of the request led to a less than holistic treatment.  Urban forest exists in the county even if it doesn’t have an urban forester per se and urban forestry experts are clear that management plans need to address both the city and county.

Hopefully, members of the City Council as well as senior management will not just skim the report but will go as far as to read between the lines and reach out to include the Board of County Commissioners and County manager in the discussions.

A good inventory and master plan such as the assessment performed for Wilmington, Delaware and the surrounding county of New Castle will provide local governments, including land-use planners as well as private property owners and developers, tools such as:

  • A baseline for the number and age of trees and the percentage of each species as well as their overall health and management needs to minimize risk.
  • In-depth, ground-up augmentation that can dovetail with the more superficial, top-down satellite measures of just tree canopy, including the intriguing EPA approach for which Durham is currently a beta.
  • Quantification of the overall value of the urban forest and overall green infrastructure in a variety of ways including carbon storage, air and water purification and climate control, all calibrated to local climate and other variables.
  • Pinpointed areas for tree retention and reforestation.
  • Optimization of tree ordinances and planning decisions.
  • Information to inform residential, landowner and developer decisions as well as guide urban forestry maintenance.

As Durham has done recently with other types of neglected infrastructure, the only advantage of coming from so far down is the opportunity to truly leap frog to becoming a best practice.

One resident has even recommended a break on property taxes for upkeep and improvement of tree canopy on private property.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Hardest Workplace Challenge

Hiring the right people is the hardest part of management.

Many people who are disengaged or actively disengaged at work are great at crafting a resume and interviewing.  Many are even able to get past case studies and batteries of tests.

It is crucial to remember that 30% or less of the entire workforce is engaged.  So a hiring process must determine if a candidate is:

  • Among the 50-60% of the workforce overall that is not engaged.
  • Among the 18-20% of the workforce that is actively disengaged, or
  • A high performer that is “grow and go” or trying to escape an organization that has become a haven for disengaged workers.

Studies over more than 15 years now have shown that breakdowns of engagement in the workforce have varied very little, even among management.

Cities face this challenge as well when they seek to develop or attract “talent,” now well proven to be the best way to grow economically.

It is interesting that 150 years after the Civil War effectively ended here in Durham, and more than 60 years since officials from Durham began to lay the groundwork for its evolution as a center for the creative class, the state of North Carolina has only now closed the workforce gap created by that conflict.

But the talent that drives organizations of any size as well as entire local economies is entrepreneurial and studies by Gallup show that about 5 in every 1000 working age adults possess the talents that underlie entrepreneurship.

Of those Americans who do not already own a business, only 2.5% have very high-level entrepreneurial talent.

Gallup researchers estimate that among the 30 million U.S. students now in middle and high schools, there are 150,000 future “blue-chip” entrepreneurs.

Training, support such as hubs and venture capital funding, as well as educational development are important, but experts find that they won’t create talents such as these where it doesn’t exist, merely foster them where they exist.

Talents and skillsets shouldn’t be confused.

Key to attracting and retaining talent at any level or size of organization is also about understanding and managing turnover.

I finally learned during the last part of my career to break turnover down into preventable and unpreventable, voluntary and involuntary and by tenure and performance level.

Turnover alone is far too broad a metric.  Having a low turnover rate can be indicative of even greater problems than a high turnover rate.  It is important to zero in on positive turnover, e.g.

  • “Grow and go” policies for talented high performers when there aren’t positions to move up
  • “Firing Fast” when new hires turn out not to be as self-advertised
  • Making quick changes when any employee disengages or is found to be “actively disengaged” such as working to undermine others

That’s why it is important to hire slow and then fire fast.  Rarely is an employee going to become truly engaged if this hasn’t occurred in the first six months.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that failing to discharge low performers in a very timely manner is a sure fire way to dishearten, burn out and lose high performers, who on average are 400% more productive.

There are studies that show what high performers want from a workplace, but at the very nitty-gritty, they want to be rewarded, which includes with a workplace free of those who would undermine or hold them back.

This is the element most workplace consultants never plumb but something anyone who reads between the lines of in-depth exit interviews is bound to uncover.  Remediation attempts are fine but nothing works as well as hiring the right people.

This is also true of CEOs and governing board members.  I worked under some incredible boards of directors but it was always clear when individual members were engaged or just putting in the time.  And there was always one it seemed who was actively disengaged or trying to undermine the organization and me.

But one weakness of governing boards as it is for elected bodies is the reluctance to “fire,” discharge or call out unproductive and actively disengaged members.  Most governing boards are reluctant to internally self-govern.

This is also at the heart of why it is so hard to get good candidates to run and when they are elected to keep them.

Look at any elected body and I guarantee you will find the same breakdown of engaged, disengaged and actively disengaged - or worse -that is found in the American workforce.

Of course, just as smaller organizations have a higher level of engagement, so do elected bodies as they come down to the local level.

Unfortunately, the way we finance and conduct elections in America makes it almost impossible for voters to make decisions based on the performance and levels of engagement among candidates for office.

But when it comes to society at large, we have yet to come to grips with engagement in the population.  Officials and the news media seem eager to assign responsibility to school systems and workplaces but engagement begins at the personal level and with parenting.

Dating to records when settlers first immigrated to this continent, including legends and stories passed down by Native Americans; there has always been a concern over the part of society that seems disengaged, or worse, actively disengaged.

Our nature as human beings is to try to “breathe fire” into these individuals.  You can see a denial about this reality today among those who fear that safety nets are an excuse to land rather than bounce back leading some to try to to restore work requirements and volunteerism as a qualification.

A lot of what we call gridlock is a refusal to deal with the same realities in society that are found in the workplace and have inhabited our population from our first settlements.

There is simply a portion of society that is or chooses to be disengaged or worse, actively disengaged.

And believe me; they are certainly far from all being poor.

A business approach would be to carefully distinguish those who just need a hand up from those who refuse lifelines and those who are mentally or physically disabled.

Like businesses do with leakage of goods to theft, maybe for the sake of those who are engaged, we need as a society to come to grips with the fact that a portion of society never will be and simply incorporate it as the cost of doing business, as the cost of society.

If this sounds un-empathetic, those of us who believe they are empathetic need to be aware of research finding that the more empathetic managers are, the more egocentric they tend to become.

The problem with this is that instead of paying attention to scientific, generalizable data, they begin projecting their own values on those they are trying to help.  I stand guilty as charged.

As much as cities and states talk about attracting talent, they focus too much on granting incentives or “big game hunting” that would be better invested in fostering talent at home and becoming places talented people want to live and put down roots.

This begins with placing a premium on:

  • tree canopy, technology and other infrastructure,
  • scenic preservation and elimination of blight,
  • clean air and water,
  • distinctive communities with ample natural space,
  • well-resourced secondary schools,
  • continuous workforce training collaborations including competency-based learning as well as
  • universal day care.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Three Take Aways From Our Time On The Road

I rarely listen to sports talk radio unless I’m on a cross-country road trip such as the one my English bulldog Mugsy, and I completed last week.

Unrelated to sports, three things stood out to me from sporadically listening to those shows besides learning that “deflategate” involved only one football, not twelve as had been widely reported. 

Sports fans love conspiracies (e.g. the Seahawks called the last play to make sure a certain player was not the MVP had the team won.)

Now there is speculation that it was the Colts who deflated the one ball found to be underinflated after it had been in that teams possession, not the Patriots as alleged (smile.)

One of the things that caught my attention was an expert who explained how many people confuse confidence and arrogance.

This is a misperception that has often been made about me since high school and one that some fans make about Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady who led his team to four Super Bowl championships after not being drafted until the199th player chosen.

One of my favorite explanations of the difference between confidence and arrogance is one I read just before I retired by Harvey Mackay, the author of Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive:

“Confidence in one's ability is a critical element in the willingness to take risks while still steering the ship. Arrogance takes risks by assuming everyone will get on board even when the boat has a hole in it.”

The second thing that caught my attention was something I’ve rarely  heard discussed publically among people who are black.  It was when Larry Foote, a middle linebacker for the Arizona Cardinals called Marshawn Lynch, the star fullback of the Seattle Seahawks, out for antics during the Super Bowl:

“I’m from the same type of urban environment that he’s from and the biggest message that he’s giving these kids, he might not want to admit it, is the hell with authority.

‘I don’t care, fine me, I’m gonna grab my crotch, I’m gonna do it my way.’ In the real world, it doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t.

How can you keep a job. I mean, you got these inner city kids, they don’t listen to teachers, they don’t listen to police officers, principals and these guys can’t even keep a job because they say ‘F’ authority.”

It was the kind of introspective candor that would have given the protests related to events in Ferguson, Missouri during our cross country trip last summer so much more credibility among those who were skeptical.

But enough about sports.

The last observation that caught my attention was a hint of desperation by one talk show host when, with relief in his voice, he inferred that a drop in audience was due to younger listeners time-shifting with podcasts.

I was listening to those talk shows on satellite radio but often I would stream music via Pandora from my smartphone, and I wondered just how prevalent that has become via any of the music streaming services.

At our next overnight stop, I drilled down into the details of a study of music streamers (at least monthly) and non-streamers (use it less than monthly or not at all including non-music listeners.)

Non-streamers over-index to genres like country or folk or a combination such as roots music so I am in the minority there.

Music streamers, according to the study, are only slightly (63% to 61%) more likely to listen to music in their cars but far more likely to listen to music at home and three times as likely to listen to it while traveling, as I was.

Non-streamers are only comparable when listening to music on a computer.

Interestingly, Spotify commissioned the study to learn more about how streamers vs. non-streamers connect to brands.  It turns out that streamers are nearly twice as likely to feel emotionally connected to a brand and more importantly to be an advocate.

A separate tracking study by Blueshift Research shows that among music streamers, 40.9% use Pandora Free (which includes advertising,) 25.4% use YouTube, 11.8% use Spotify Free and iHeart Radio each and 10.3% use iTunes Free.

Only 2% in my age bracket pay to a fee to avoid the ads as I do.  Indicative of how fast streaming is being adopted as a music alternative to radio, only 31.7% have yet to access it.

That is now nearly the same percentage of Americans (30.6%) who do not pay for TV in their homes.  Many Americans, 38.7% of those ages 18-29, have never had pay TV service such as cable or satellite.

Of Americans who are cord cutters, 10.4% have shifted to streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu and 7.6% have reverted to free TV using an antenna.  The average streamer uses 2.3 services.

Even more interesting is that 60.5% of cord cutters are women including 21% with children younger than 5 living with them.  Some of this is due to how costly and inflexible pay packages became but a good deal has to do with advertising.

Traditional advertising is a form of “yelling” to get your attention rather than earning it.  Savvy parents know how unpredictably inappropriate much of this yelling is for young people.

Paid television, may soon be dominated, as sports talk radio is, by advertising relevant only to some adult males.

Every form of advertising has slipped since 2008.  Even garish digital billboards have not stopped the decline of outdoor advertising use, now relevant to less than 2% of consumers and known more for clear cutting roadside forests and desecrating views.

Online advertising, though, has increased during this span nearly 300%, most of that now as content-driven advertising, delivered not as interruption but there when you need it.

According to a new report by Borrell Associates, true digital advertising such as this has now grown to the “dominance newspapers enjoyed for years, until the late 1990s.”

We look at services such as Uber as disrupting the way we access vehicles for hire but according to analysts at BIA/Kelsey, they may be signaling a revolution in how we access all goods and services at the local level (aka ODLS or On-Demand Local Services.)

Nowhere is this change more relevant than to small and medium size businesses and organizations (SMBs.)  It is not just the final nail in the coffin for traditional advertising at any level but a revolution in marketing.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Grieving and Other Stereotypes

I didn’t drive cross country to my Mom’s funeral and back during the last two weeks to save money.  It costs a third or more than just flying and renting a car.

We all grieve differently and I knew the three and a half day drive out would give me time to do that before I got to Spanish Fork, Utah where she was buried.  It also provided as well, a chance to think through the overview of her life I would deliver at graveside.

In breadth, this essay will resemble our frequent conversations.

She was a few days short of 86 years old when she died.  Mom had battled the last couple of decades through macular degeneration in both eyes, a broken pelvis, hip and wrist as well as constant pain and/or feeling loopy from pain patches.

Always cheery, she had frequently told me she was ready to go, and in retrospect, for the past year there were signs she was coming in for a landing.

She had skipped the annual lakeside family rendezvous last summer and then let her apartment go to move north along Puget Sound to live with my youngest sister and brother-in-law.

She studiously used a “reader” to sort through all of her papers and mementos so they would be in order.

The first night of our trip out, Mugs and I stayed in Paducah, located in that far western tip of Kentucky pointed into a nook between Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois.

Mugs and I drove north the next morning up across the Ohio River as dawn began to break from just over my right shoulder.

I recalled reading Mom’s great-grandfather’s journal about a trip he made in 1840 up that river to visit his Quaker mother one last time before then heading west another 1,100 miles into the Rocky Mountains.

Also crossing my mind was my Mom’s parenting and love dating to my first memories of her singing ad reading to me,  Suddenly, my numbness gave way to tears that didn’t let up for several hours until we were well past St. Charles, Missouri.

The emotion was a mixture of sadness at her passing, joy remembering her life and relief that she was no longer in pain.  I also wondered if she was mad as hell to get to the afterlife and see my Dad there because he didn’t have to sit through all of those meetings at church (smile.)

I had driven the route before but never from the direction we travelled that morning nor at that time of day nor when I was so much in the moment.

Before stopping for the night in Salina, Kansas, I had been marveling at the stereotypes we are often given of various states and how some over deliver while others under deliver on those expectations.

The vast majority of Kansas over delivers.

Many people stereotype it as flat and ultra conservative including being rabidly anti-choice when it comes to a woman’s personal control over decisions about her body.

But those are just the aspects given the most exposure in news reports.

Of course, there is always some truth to stereotypes.  About a third of Kansas is indeed comprised of high plains, much like half of adjoining Colorado as well as a majority of Montana which escape that stereotype and a large corner of Wyoming, part of Nebraska and South Dakota and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma which don’t.

Stereotypes are never even handed.

Salina lies where the Flint Hills Uplands give way to the Smoky Hills region of Kansas, just north of the Arkansas River Valley.  It was an incredible 70 degrees the January evening I stopped there to overnight.

We drove west another two hours the next morning before getting into the high plains where they continued along our route for another four hours, mostly in Colorado before cutting north along the Rocky Mountain Front and then west to cross the Continental Divide at South Pass after our final outbound overnight in Rawlins, Wyoming.

Speaking of stereotypes, we’re also given to believe by the news media and politicians that Wyoming is incredibly conservative at 41.6%, the third highest in the nation.  But overlooked is that 40.2% of residents there self-identify as moderate and 13% as liberal.

Does a tiny 1.4% differential warrant a stereotype?  Jackson and Laramie certainly aren’t large enough for the majority of Wyomans, who in fact aren’t conservative, to be sequestered only there.

South Pass is a relatively low spot between the central and southern Rockies where beginning in 1847 in little more than a decade every line of ancestors on both my Dad and Mom’s side passed before becoming a union in our ancestral Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho where the central and northern Rockies meet.

Kansas also isn’t as conservative politically as politicians as well as those who plant those annoying little abortion signs along the freeway there hope to make you believe.

It is the 22nd most conservative state at 38.4% but the full story is that 36.3% of Kansans self-identify as moderate and more than a fifth as liberal, ranking it as average overall, just above North Carolina.

The signs along the Interstate there shout out warnings about abortion and call for stricter policies but surveys show that those messages represent the views of a minority of Americans and probably Kansans, too.

Even 19% of Republicans want them to be the same or less strict but a combined 45% of Independents and Democrats also feel that way.  Overall, only 24% of Americans support making them stricter.

Neither Salina nor Kansas existed in 1847 when three ancestors of my Mom’s marched just south of where that town would be founded a half dozen years later and just north of what would become Durham, Kansas, (smile) down along the old Santa Fe Trail with the Mormon Battalion  destined for the War with Mexico.

They exited what is now Kansas near what would later be named Liberal, Kansas which in that era meant “kind.”

Places and physiography as well as stereotypes get politicized over time.  Kansas for instance has a rate of 30% obesity among adults.  Is it found more commonly among those who are conservative or moderate?

Not sure what all of this has to do with my Mom who self-identified as a conservative, but in reality she was more moderate, except that this essay closely resembles the vast range of topics we would touch on during frequent phone calls.

Intellectual curiosity is a family trait.  So is a stiff upper lip.  So is grieving the way we do.

Miss you MomRed heart.  Please tell Dad hey.