Thursday, April 30, 2015

Family History’s Link to Civic Engagement & Tourism

Only 47% of Southerners know what both of their grandfathers did for a living, more than twice the percentage nationwide and astonishing given that 3-out-of-4 Americans express interest in knowing their roots.

But only a small percentage are what are called family history enthusiasts, people who have done at least 40 hours of research on their family roots.

A study published last year by The Odum Institute at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, just south of Durham where I live, found some significant correlations to family history enthusiasm.

It found that “higher levels of involvement in family history research positively correlated with self-reported volunteerism, civic engagement, charitable giving and community involvement.”

My interest in family history dates to my earliest memories of being lifted over the fence from the ancestral ranch where I was born to explore the headstones in a small cemetery in view of the Tetons where generations of ancestors had been buried.

A generation ago, the average family history stretched back 149 years but thanks to the ability to mine records online, it has grown in the U.S. to 184 years.

On both sides, mine now goes back now much further, in some cases more than 1,500 years.  I’ve been fascinated with a new interface that compares your family tree looking for any links to those of famous inventors, writers, athletes, clergy, even U.S. Presidents.

Relative Finder shows me my distant familial connect to Henry David Thoreau, Samuel Clemmons, Walter Chrysler, the Wright Brothers, Bing Crosby and Hall of Fame Quarterback Steve Young.

It also shows connections, long before they were Mormon leaders, to Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and a hand full of others, including David O. McKay, who was the leader as I grew up.

I am also distantly related to Alexander Hamilton, 5th cousin 9 times removed to George Washington, as well as a distant relative to Jefferson, Adams and 15 other Presidents before I lost count including 7th cousin 5 times removed to Ulysses S. Grant.

Others included both Roosevelts, Truman, Nixon, Ford and President Obama through his mother’s side, 12th cousin 1 time removed.  Of course, most of these relationships relate to common ancestors long before those who who would immigrate here.

Obviously I am an underachiever.

Last year, a separate study reported that online family history research has grown in the United States by 14 times over the past decade.

Today, my alma mater BYU is known for its acclaimed Family History Technology Lab in the Computer Sciences Department, where students developed the now certified Relative Finder.

But it was two students earning degrees in public policy and mechanical engineering who first laid the groundwork in 1986 for what is now online genealogy.  It was a computer program intended to index text information in publications.

But it was soon integrated by Novell into its then dominant network operating system. Soon, two other BYU students used this technology as the backbone for what became

It was started as a publishing company in 1983 to aid people doing family history the old fashioned way.

But by 1996, two students with degrees in Russian and International Relations leveraged a start up in electronic publishing into what is now a huge subscription repository of records used to build family trees.

I mentioned the majors of these pioneers at the forefront of online genealogy to make the point that they didn’t have degrees in science or technology, something often lost on policy makers today obsessed with STEM.

According to the Ancestry Global Family History Report, interest in family history has doubled since 2008 and will again by 2025.

More than half of us (54%) were drawn to family history from looking through old photographs, letters or documents that our parents kept. 

Nearly a third of us (29%) have been to visit places where our ancestors lived while 14% have visited a museum, library or archive to conduct family history research.

In the U.S., 81% of those of us researching family history have come across old photos and two-thirds have come across birth, marriage or death records other than church records and 47% of have discovered old letters.

Only 10% of Americans trace to those who arrived on the Mayflower, but a quarter of those of us researching family history have used other passenger lists and immigrations records.

The report also provides a typology based on how close or distant families are in each nation.

Many times, I come across distant relatives who have chosen to share their DNA results on various websites including  Researchers are also now able to use DNA results to unwrap the composition of entire countries. has digitalized or obtained 15 billion digitalized records to date including 3 billion uploaded by users.

It is just one of several online family research sites, some of which such as are now allowing an interface.

Significant is that across the six countries studied in the Ancestry Global Family History Report is that 60% people “feel a personal responsibility to act as a guardian of their family history.”

Possibly more important is that 62% of younger people ages 18-24 are being inspired to learn more through talking to older family members.

Just remember to capture every bit on a digital recorder or smart device.

My mother died in January at age 86 but my sisters and I were astonished at how much information she would share in her last few years that we had never heard before.

It was priceless.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Glacial Journey to Awareness and Aesthetic Warrior

I wasn’t always so zealous about scenic conservation.

Even though I was an early adopter in my field when it came to understanding the overall significance of sense of place, some related realizations took decades for me.

They dawned on me as more of an ooze than a lightning bolt.

So if my journey to the realization I will share in this post is still unfamiliar to anyone, especially as it seems to many in my former field, maybe my journey to awareness could be useful.

When I was recruited to North Carolina 26 years ago, I too, soon took its vaunted forests and tree canopied streets for granted, including those along roadways crisscrossing the state.

Even though they had been constitutionally banned at statehood in Alaska, my previous community marketing post, I still also really hadn’t given the desecration that billboards cause much thought back then.

It would be nearly another two decades before my conversion took hold as a passionate defender of scenic preservation and character against the forces of blight.

When I arrived in Durham to jumpstart community marketing in 1989 at the recommendation of a colleague in another community I even considered using one or two local billboards as exaggerated welcome signs.

That is until I learned that less than five years earlier, local Republicans had spearheaded a ban here too.  It was enacted just as the last billboard was removed from Maine following a ban enacted by voters there in 1977.

But North Carolina had just begun rolling out business logo signs at freeway exits here that had been authorized by the U.S. Congress in the mid-1960s.

Along with color-coded wayfinding signs for visitor centers and cultural attractions, these signs are part of what are known as TODS (tourist oriented directional signing) which are far more effective for our community marketing purposes anyway.

There is an irony to the Durham ban on huge, roadside commercial billboards.

A hundred years before Maine voters banished them, their first widespread use along wagon and horse trails and railroad tracks emanated from Durham in 1877.

Julian Carr, a partner in “Bull Durham” smoking tobacco was ahead of his time with marketing.

The renamed product’s fame took root in 1868 when it was re-branded following its newfound popularity among Confederate and Union soldiers bivouacked here during the surrender that ended the Civil War.

Billboards were hand painted back then, often on rocks or barn roofs and siding and Carr deployed four teams of painters across the country securing the rights from property owners.

Today, “Old Bull,” the brand’s original 1874 headquarters and factory is a National Historic Landmark in Durham, adaptively reused for apartments, but as part of its authenticity, vintage billboards there have been preserved including one on its roof.

Until Carr’s innovative campaign in 1877, billboard companies had limited their desecration to cities, “brawling” with one another over telegraph poles, ash barrels and fences as well as wallpapering entire houses and blocks of commercial buildings.

In the words of Dr. Catherine Gudis, author of Buyways: billboards, automobiles, and the American landscape and a professor at UC-Riverside, back then “advertising space was not yet construed as real estate” but as “public spectacle.”

She notes that billboard companies at the time that “few paid regard to the inviolability of private and public property.”  The desecration of roadsides today is obviously in their DNA.

But 16 years after Carr sent his billboard painters across the nation and around the world, Americans rose once more in rebellion and mounted a hundred-year-long “sense of place” revolt.

It was, as documented by Professor Gudis from her research here in Durham in Duke’s outdoor advertising archives, a “battle for aesthetic rights to the roadside environment,” a picket engagement of which had been fought in Durham a few years before my arrival.

Americans fought in this rebellion, skirmishes of which continue today, to reclaim the roadsides created with their tax dollars from the forces of blight.

Meanwhile in another ironic twist, billboard companies recast themselves as simply private property owners.

Losing to aesthetic revolutionaries in the court of public opinion, they have posed as poor victims shelling out tens of millions across the country to sway lawmakers.

Lost on those who fall sway today in North Carolina is that billboard companies don’t own the property they use.  They lease it, and the laws they pursue are intended to harm the real property owners.

Only 3% of the billboards in North Carolina are locally owned by small independent companies.  More than 97% are now controlled by a handful of huge out-of-state companies, a cartel of sorts owned by REITS as vehicles to avoid paying taxes and by a revolving door of private equity firms.

They actually own property for only 3% of the thousands and thousands of billboards they have erected across the state.  Yet, they have successfully hoodwinked some lawmakers into thinking otherwise.

But it is something else that led me to join the roadside rebels.

These large out-of-state billboard companies are bullies, a realization that finally led to my belated conversion as a champion for scenic preservation and aesthetic rights as a civil right for all Americans.

Having divided up North Carolina among themselves, this billboard cartel not only bullies local communities to override the interests of their citizens, they throw their weight around to bully state regulators away from defending the public interest.

There are many reasons to despise the state laws they have recently pushed through including clear-cutting exorbitant view zones and soon even the once protected forest at interchanges.

Now they are seeking seek to overturn local zoning ordinances including democratically enacted and popular billboard controls and bans.

They also hope to transform thousands of illegal billboards to legal status as well as gaining the ability of turning them digital and capable of being relocated anywhere they please.

They also seek now to hold taxpayers hostage for millions of dollars for each billboard when roads are widened, something even the Texas Supreme Court rejected last week.

But the real reason they are bullies is what they are trying to do to the true local property owners who own the land leased by these billboard companies.

They also want to put small independent companies out of business so they can bully land lessors at will.  “Agree to our terms, or we will move one of our other billboards to block yours, rending it worthless.”

But my slow conversion to aesthetic warrior began much earlier.

Durham was forced by a large billboard company to take its right to ban billboards and remove them by providing a seven year window for the company to amortize its value all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It was declared valid in 1992, less than three years after I arrived.  Over the next nine years, a grand compromise was shaped among billboard companies, public agencies and scenic character advocates regarding window-framing to protect trees, reforestation and view zones.

But within two years, the billboard companies were back at it, persuading Democrats in the legislature to outlaw the tools for removal endorsed for communities by the U.S. Supreme Court, preferring it seemed to let the forces of nature remove them.

Then five years later, just before I retired, neighborhoods in Durham were forced to defend the community’s ban as one of the out-of-state giants strapped a business organization to the bumper in an attempt to bully Durham into reversing its ban.

Unsuccessful, they turned again to the legislature as recourse, this time to Republicans for refuge in their continued war of desecration.

By then I had joined the small bands of rebels still fighting the aesthetic rights roadside revolt that began 122 years ago.

I’ve learned that this revolt has had many victories: promoting roadways as parkways, sparking the City Beautiful movement, empowering communities to establish billboard controls and pioneering community destination marketing organizations.

That rebellion as it continues today is a reaction to the road and rail-side desecration Americans saw as tourism took off after the Civil War.

The revolt was not only in defense of tourism but because tourism related businesses often fail to understand that people are drawn to destinations - not to hotels or mainstream amusements or pursuits they can do at home.

Aesthetic rebels such as me know that without this insight, tourism usually kills the very things it loves.

And that is why I have become a zealot for aesthetic rights.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Just 48 Months

People who skipped over a recent post entitled 7 Truths may not have realized that they pertain to the spectacular shift Americans have made in how they access information while on the road.

Take maps for instance.  By far, the way Americans now access maps is online, and according to a survey, 90% do it on the go via a smartphone where they are useful not only for navigation but to pinpoint travel services such as restaurants, lodging and fueling stations.

According to Michelin, which has produced old fashioned static paper maps and guides for more than 100 years, 39% of Americans still keep one in the car as back up.

Less than 2% apparently continue to use roadside billboards.

Although these days, my back up to GPS is a “large print” AAA map, I still have a 1967 Michelin map of France from my first passenger airplane trip of any kind when I had just turned 19 years old.

That is also the year before Michelin started publishing maps and guides for destinations in the United States.

North Carolina first published a state highway map in 1916 when federal aid became available, and then annually or every other year since 1924.  The 1930 edition even showed motorists how to do hand signals for stopping and turning.

The first one printed in color was the 1936 edition, which included a guide to what were then considered the state’s major attractions (shown in the image below,) one of which was in Durham.

Of course settlements had been mapped here beginning in 1590.

It wasn’t until three years after I arrived in North Carolina to officially jumpstart visitor-centric economic and cultural development for Durham in 1989, that city and regional insets began to be added to the state map.

That was the year the World-Wide Web (WWW) was created to enable onramps to the Internet.  By the time the state map added those city insets, the first online maps were created by the Xerox innovation lab, PARC (Palo Alto Research Center.)

By 1994 when we began the shift to moving all Durham information to that platform, Canada and Scotland had put their entire atlases there, the latter being the first interactive maps.

Our organization was one of the first in the nation to incorporate the responsibility to determine or relay “impedance” data to online map companies.  This is what permitted these maps to recognize one-way streets and navigational turns.

Whenever your GPS misleads you - and 63% of us have had that happen - don’t blame online maps, blame the community and/or state that has neglected to update its data which is even more contaminating to static paper maps.

Even venerable Michelin is going online.

Most Americans first learned about online maps through MapQuest beginning in about 1996 but codes written and adapted by that company go back to its origins in the 1980s.

Then along came Google Maps in 2005 built on that company’s acquisition of the work of two Danish brothers in Sydney.

Apple launched the first iPhone less than 24 months later, although smartphones had been conceptualized in 1971, just before I graduated from BYU, and were offered for sale in 1993, on the heels of that first digital map created by Xerox.

Adoption of smartphones by Americans has been at a blinding rate of speed.  From just 35% four years ago, the fraction of Americans now using a smartphone has reached two-thirds, 75% of all mobile device users.

This means that within just 48 months, the percentage using these devices flip flopped to the percentage not using them.  The aftershocks of this seismic shift are just now becoming apparent.

And its substitution by users as the primary means of navigating to businesses as well as learning about new products has been even faster.

Smartphones are also the primary or only means for nearly 1-in-5 Americans to access the Internet including 13% of those making less than $30,000 per year.

Half of smartphone users have their devices to access help in emergency situations and 17% to report neighborhood problems.

Marketers, as a group, can be extremely slow to shift gears with a few even still using roadside billboards, earning a reputation for desecration marketing.

But laggards notwithstanding, it appears that devices such as these have already becoming the salvation for restoration of scenic character along our roadsides.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Significance of Understanding Your Natural Rhythm

I am what researchers call a “lark,” someone who, because of the way their circadian rhythms shifts, is genetically a “morning person.”

This is why I still get up around 6 a.m. even though I am retired.  It is why I work out and write these posts early in the morning.  Other people are genetically night “owls” or what researchers call “undifferentiated.”

A researcher at BYU, my alma mater, found in a study that 44% of people are “larks” like me, another 32% are “owls” and 24% are undifferentiated.

Dr. Jeffry H. Larson, who graduated a year before I did, also found that people whose rhythms are mismatched are far more likely to argue and to do so more often.

Researchers at Harvard and the University of Utah found that this can also impact when people are most likely to lie.

Further, researchers at the University of Washington, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown have found that when energy wanes, as it does later in the day for “larks” and earlier for “owls,” is also the time of day overall when people are more likely to be unethical.

For some time now, researchers have studied what they call “social jetlag” and found correlations to our chronology.  This is what some people feel when they go back to work on Monday or after a vacation.

It is also something that many college graduates are about to experience as they shift into the workforce.

Studies of “presenteeism” (present in body but not in mind,) note that it costs nearly $80 billion in annual lost productivity.

Human performance decreases at night by 5%-15%.  Interestingly, turnover drops by more than half when employees are able to modify a select a schedule compared to when mandated.

Some research has found links between “owls” and smoking and obesity.  Other research has found that “owls” are also potentially more creative and possibly have slightly higher IQs.

It isn’t likely that a person can change their chronology, and there are some well documented health reasons for why we sleep and fast at night.

Flex time is a solution but so is encouraging people in the workforce to be more conscious and respectful of the ebb and flow of their own energy as well as that of others so that they take on big projects when they are operating with high energy.

It may be that teams should be assembled, in part, using compatibility in this regard as criteria.

Years ago, during my four-decade career as a community marketing executive, I set a rule that people who helped me protect my calendar could set no more than one meeting for me in the morning and one in the afternoon without first clearing an exception.

This is what Dr. Christine Carter at UC-Berkley, the author of the new book The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work, calls the “minimum effective dose” strategy.

For me, that rule about meetings was one of those “micro-habits” she writes about which, to paraphrase, channel our brain’s natural ability to run on “autopilot” so our habits can “relieve overreliance on willpower.”

I can also see in hindsight, how some people who are unethical and savvy at manipulation, probably took care to select meeting times where the potential for unethical outcomes was most probable.

They may have innately understood what researchers have observed.  Due to the “psychological depletion” people experience as the days wear on, “in the afternoon, the moral slope gets slipperier.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Symbols of Intergenerational Compact

In an essay a week ago, I suggested that North Carolina’s annual Interagency Report on Litter Cleanup, Education/Prevention and Enforcement was missing some information.

But I was mistaken; so maybe with this post, I can fill in some of the blanks.

Litter clean-up has many purposes including public health, achieved by reducing contaminants in storm water, but it is also to safeguard scenic character, which is a core trait in the state’s appeal for economic development.

So I questioned why programs to proactively beautify roadsides were omitted.  It turns out these are beyond the legislative scope of the report and I sense that over-delivering may not be well received.

It is too bad because North Carolinians are largely unaware of how much the NC Department of Transportation does to protect and enhance the state’s overall appeal along its roadsides.

Roadsides are the first and last impression that more than 90% of the state’s visitors receive, as well as tens of millions of potential visitors who are just passing through.

When I arrived in Durham twenty-six years ago to complete the last half of a four-decade career in visitor-centric economic and cultural development, Bill Johnson, a now retired NCDOT roadside engineer was deep into two, now award-winning, beautifications projects.

Today, North Carolinians and visitors to the state are greeted with 1,500 acres of wildflowers across the state as they drive along Interstates here.

Bill also started a program to recognize and preserve scenic byways along secondary roads across the state.

Soon the number will be increased to 58 covering more than 2,300 roadway miles showcasing every part of North Carolina including Durham, one of the few urban counties to set one aside, a favorite of mine astride a trusty Harley-Davidson Crossbones.

It is also a stated goal of NCDOT to “have well established and aesthetically pleasing forest along the highways in North Carolina.”  I haven’t seen a report for this decade but from the 1960s through the 2000s, NCDOT planted about 5 million trees along roadsides here.

A good share were planted in league with the America Treeways Program, a partnership of many agencies and volunteer organizations with the National Tree Trust established in the early 1990s by the first President Bush, a Republican.

Back then, it was also a bipartisan national policy to have well established and aesthetically pleasing forests along highways.

I will never forget a sentiment expressed by Bush I during my first few months in Durham, “Every tree is a compact between generations.”

Add that to the list of intergenerational compacts that have been shattered over the past decade.

Today, in North Carolina, many legislators inexplicably work overtime to sacrifice trees along the 14% of roadways that are part of the National Highway System here where they still remain, even though protected in the state constitution.

As a result, except whenever the Governor intervenes, Carolina’s once vaunted appeal for scenic character is rapidly falling into tatters.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The End That Marked A Beginning

I wonder as re-enactors, history buffs and other visitors gather in Durham, North Carolina this weekend if they will realize the even greater symbolism Bennett Place has to this community.

The otherwise tranquil setting is not only where the Civil War ended 150 years ago this week, it marks the place where Durham began to gather a realization of its sense of place.

One of the surprises in the new book entitled, To the Bitter End: Appomattox, Bennett Place, and the Surrenders of the Confederacy, is not only how much of it is new information but that author Robert M. Dunkerly includes a number of essays in the appendix.

One is entitled The Long Road Home from Appomattox by another Park Ranger and interpreter, Ernie K. Price, who has been researching the journey home of Confederate soldiers for many years.

After Appomattox, people who would be giants among Durham’s founding generation were on their way home, having been paroled as part of Lee’s surrender of his much smaller Army of Virginia including several North Carolina units such as the 3rd Cavalry.

Most, traveling on foot, would have reached here in time to hear intense picket battles raging across southern Durham as Union Cavalry chased the remnants of Confederate troopers in the hours before a ceasefire took effect.

As Price notes, while returning Confederate soldiers would have traveled in small groups, the last few miles to home were often alone.  I suspect that if it wasn’t surreal enough to find the war still winding down as they were greeted, then they heard the news was of President Lincoln’s assassination.

I have learned since first penning this essay that next month Durham will be the culmination of another reenactment entitled, A Soldier’s Walk Home, in recognition of the even longer walk home another Durham Confederate soldier made from the coast.

The legacy of Bennett Place is not only that Confederates resisted calls to continue a guerilla war, although several units tried.  By 1868 and only 18 miles west of Bennett Place, gangs of KKK riders were terrorizing the countryside.

That is also the year that tobacco, rebranded as Genuine Bull Durham, was being mailed to fulfill requests from former Union and Confederate soldiers who had helped themselves to it during the truce, marking the genesis of the New South.

Bennett Place remained a working farm until purchased by Brodie Duke in 1890, twenty-five years after the surrender there that ended the Civil War.  Duke saw it as an enterprise and tried to sell it as a novelty during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Coincidentally, this is also when two of those returning Confederate soldiers, Julian Carr and Washington Duke, helped Trinity College relocate to Durham which later became Duke University.

At its former location in Randolph County, Trinity College had been one of several places stretching from Greensboro to Salisbury where Confederate units awaited the outcome of the surrender negotiations in Durham.

In 1908, 43 years after the surrender, Bennett Place was purchased by another of Durham’s founding generation, industrialist Samuel Tate Morgan, who hoped to see it preserved as an historical park.

It was also the period when another North Carolinian, Thomas Dixon, wrote The Clansman (1905) glorifying and rebranding the KKK from terrorists to saviors and forming the basis of D.W. Griffith’s movie The Birth of a Nation in 1915 and the second coming of the Clan.

Many former Confederates in Durham were staunch segregationists but instead of dawning white robes and burning crosses, they were lending a helping hand during this span to evolution of an “entrepreneurial enclave” of black owned enterprises including the founding of a university.

But before Morgan’s dream could be realized, he died in 1921, a few months before membership in the KKK nationwide peaked.  His family and friends in Durham took up the cause.

It is fitting that as KKK membership reached 4 million, on October 12, 1923 Durham leaders including many former Confederate soldiers were instead erecting the Unity Monument at Bennett Place.

His vision about the importance of honoring place inspired other at the time and while they may not realize it, continues to generations here still working to promote and shape Durham’s distinctive sense of place.

Hopefully, in a few years, we remember to recognize the 150th anniversary of so much that makes Durham distinctive and appealing.  Hopefully, we will not instead be mourning its demise.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Profiling May Not be the Problem

In a recent NYT op-ed, Northeastern University researcher, Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett suggested something that made me realize that our brains are wired to profile.

She describes our brains as predictive organs that make thousands of “neural ‘guesses’” at a time that “largely shape what you see, hear and otherwise perceive.”

Profiling in and of itself is not racially biased but, she contends, for some it may be “one pernicious way in which racial bias expresses itself.”

But those who seek to curb racism by curbing profiling seem misguided to me, especially when our brains are wired to subconsciously profile.

This is probably why so many people rolled their eyes when a law was pushed through in New York City prohibiting the running of credit checks on job applicants.

As justification, in part, advocates pointed out that the percentage of people with scores of 700 or above is less than half among blacks what it is among whites.

A recent Illinois study found that the average credit score in minority neighborhoods was 107 to 130 points lower than in other neighborhoods but so was the percentage who made late payments, by three to six times.

Poverty is more likely the cause than racism.

In the process, people seeking social justice on behalf of others often make unfortunate and inaccurate stereotypes in the process such as linking race to poverty when as the excellent blog Breaking Brown points out “the real welfare queen is uneducated, single and white.”

Of course, I agree that bad credit should not be used to disqualify a candidate before allowing them an opportunity to explain.  A check of existing employees in most workplaces should be enough to warrant credit counseling as a benefit.

On a related subject, an excellent investigative report in Mother Jones this month incorporates research done at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation.

It documents the horrific cost of gun violence, $229 billion each year.

Much of it, nearly $13 million a day is passed on to taxpayers.

To put this in perspective, this will soon eclipse the cost of smoking on society.

The report points out that while 93% of gun suicide victims are white, 57% of gun homicide victims are black.  So are the majority of offenders according to FBI statistics.

In a separate but related piece, the researchers point out the huge disparity in the percentage of homicides solved when there is a white victim compared to case involving black victims.

Police shootings are a tiny sliver of the gun violence in America.  Based on the way our brains work, it makes sense that they will concentrate resources in minority neighborhoods on behalf of minority victims, in pursuit of minority offenders.

But essayist Tim Wise calculates from FBI data that only about 1% of African Americans including 2% of black males will commit a violent crime in a given year.

He continues that “No more than .7 percent (seven-tenths of one percent) of African Americans will commit a violent crime against a white person in a given year, and fewer than .3 percent (three-tenths of one percent) of whites will be victimized by a black person in a given year.”

He concludes, “Whites are 6 times more likely to be murdered by another white person as by a black person.”

It seems to me that profiling isn’t the problem nor is the use of statistics which can be a useful way of predicting crime.

Racism is the problem and it is people who are racist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A 35 Year Decline in the Desire to Work

Some of my progressive friends don’t like to hear this, even from a moderate Independent such as me.

But there is something to the concern that laziness may play a role in why a certain amount of poverty seems impervious despite societal safety nets.  More than 4-in-10 people who are poor seem to think so.

So do most progressives I suspect.  They are just less prone to stereotype the poor than many at the other end of the spectrum.

They also reject remedies from the far right that seek to starve out the small number of poor who are lazy with solutions that undermine millions of children in those homes along with the working poor, who as I will show, are among the most industrious Americans.

Only 26% of drug and alcohol treatment centers are residential and only a handful of those go beyond a few weeks or months.  Even fewer are centered on instilling a work ethic, as are the most successful, some of which also happen to be at no charge.

But ask the latter what the biggest reason is for washing out within the first months or so, regardless of socio-economic level and you’ll learn that it is an unwillingness to work.

Of course, this is a very small portion of those in poverty but while the question hasn’t been asked recently, in opinion polls 40% of those in that circumstance believe some of their peers are not doing enough and don’t really want to work.

This may also explain why many who are addicted prefer to panhandle along roadsides, which seems like it would be much harder than holding down a job.

But refusing to get clean, not lack of access, is why those who are panhandling aren’t able to access shelters and related workforce training.

Take away those who suffer from mental health issues and those who are crooks and you’ll find many who just refuse to work.

By the way, it hasn’t been posted yet but there is an excellent overview of the state of rehab in America in the investigative Mother Jones Magazine this month entitled Hung out to Dry by John Hill.

Apparently, of the 18.7 million Americans who needed alcohol treatment in 2010, only 1.7 million received it.

In a recent nationwide study of Americans, only 24% felt they had achieved the American Dream while 36% felt it unlikely including 21% who no longer give it much thought.

But 86% cited a strong work ethic as essential to achieving the American Dream.  Close behind that was parents or other adults who instill honesty, responsibility and persistence, followed by good schools.

Telling is that 42% felt the answer is individual effort compared to 39% who saw it being aided by society.  Disturbing is that 19% didn’t believe that either was the answer.

Equal percentages (43%) felt that the American Dream was endangered by a decline in work ethic and hard workers being shut out.  The fact that 14% felt that neither reflected their views may shed light on the number who are lazy among all socio-economic strata.

Since 1967, the Current Population Survey has been measuring among other things, the desire among individuals for work, last updated in 2014.

This is analyzed in a paper published last month.

My friends on the right have one answer for every societal ill: government.  Government undermines values, government caused the Great Depression and the Great Recession, government causes pollution, government caused the BP spill in the Gulf and on and on.

Ironically, the study documents that the 35 year decline in the desire to work started just as let ‘em “sink or swim” conservatives launched an all out attack on the safety-net, dramatically cut taxes for the rich and began to harangue and stereotype the poor.

The fraction of non-workforce participants reported as “wanting a job” trended up during the 1970s, then began a decades long slide beginning at the dawn of the 1980s just when the so-called Reagan Revolution promised the opposite.

The study entitled, Declining Desire to Work and Downward Trends in Unemployment and Participation is fascinating because it unwraps why the desire to work went into strong decline in the mid-1990s just after the government moved to “end welfare as we knew it.”

A report last year in the Wall Street Journal noted, using results from a joint survey by that paper and NBC News, how much the opinions of Americans has changed since 1995 regarding the causes of poverty.

In 1995, “Americans were twice as likely to believe poverty resulted from people not doing enough to help themselves out than to attribute it to external forces.”

Today, “Americans are as likely to blame poverty on circumstances beyond people’s control…,” although the majority of those holding power in Congress appear to remain stuck in the 1990s.

The percentage of Americans still holding to the view that it is because of laziness has plummeted, less among Republicans than Democrats and Independents and white Americans overall.

This hasn’t stopped the promotion of failed solutions across the ideological spectrum.  Personally, I favor a national living wage calibrated to localities, more affordable education and a return to a more progressive tax rate to fuel aspirations to achieve the American Dream.

But from my four decades as a chief executive, I feel we need to also find solutions that will address the 2-in-10 Americans who appear a bit lazy without, as many do today, stereotyping the poor.

Even the controversial white paper by the libertarian right Cato Institute, a follow up to one in 1995, acknowledges that “there is no evidence that people on welfare are lazy or do not wish to work.”

Studies also show there is no evidence that people who are poor value education any less or are any less involved with their children or are more addicted to substances than Americans overall.

Nor is there any evidence they are lazier.  In fact, many of these things correlate to incomes as they rise.

Laziness cuts across the entire spectrum, regardless of pocketbook size.  So should any solutions.

Monday, April 20, 2015

7 Truths

A friend of mine’s job is to make sure a mega-bank’s marketing is ethical, especially any advertising about products.

Although probably subject to regulations, it is a voice of conscience that many in my former field of community destination marketing could use when tempted to place ads for no other measurable reason than to make a stakeholder happy.

This sort of ethical compliance might also come in handy whenever a few are tempted to use ad mediums, such as billboards, that desecrate roadsides and degrade the brands and appeal of towns and states, including their own.

The latter would probably even volunteer to be strapped to the bumper as willing hostages for lawmakers trying to push a bill through in North Carolina that would legalize thousands of illegal billboards, permit their conversion to digital even where residents are overwhelmingly opposed, as well as drive up the cost of road construction.

Pushing aside that public opinion polls show North Carolinians are opposed, regardless of party, gender or geography, a sponsor pointed out that billboards “are no different than radio, TV or newspapers.”

Uh, there is at least one crucial difference.  Radio, TV and newspapers produce content in return.  Billboards destroy content when they blight their surroundings and destruct scenic character.

The legislation’s sponsor went on to use tourism as a justification because “its visibility to the traveling public must be preserved and fostered.”

Okay, let’s forget for a moment that for decades in survey after survey, scenic character and climate have been the two overarching draws for tourism here.  Billboards, eh, not so much.

Any tourism concern still using billboards in North Carolina should take heed from marketing guru Seth Godin who wrote that “Marketers need to spend less time making promises and more time keeping them.”

I’ve had some experience here and there marketing tourism including two decades in North Carolina so let’s look at whether billboards are important to tourism:

  • It is true that 1-in-10 Americans prefer to see ads on billboards, however, 90% don’t.
  • It is true that 3% of small businesses advertise on billboards, 1-in-10 when medium size businesses are included, however, 90% don’t.
  • It is true that .2% (two-tenths of one percent) of adults find billboards the most influential ad medium for purchase decisions, however, 99% don’t.
  • It is also true that nearly two-thirds of Americans now use smartphones, 67% of which use them for turn by turn navigation while driving, and 75% while traveling.
  • It is also true that beyond smartphones, 40% have other portable GPS devices and 17% have it built into their vehicles, and this is ramping up in North America to another 13 million vehicles annually.
  • It is also true that on the road, 62% use mobile devices to find restaurants, 46% to find attractions, 42% to book and research accommodations.
  • It is also true, according to Michelin, that as a backup the remaining 39% rely on old fashioned maps, guides and Internet print outs to find their way around.  Billboards fall in the 5% who use none of the above or “other.”

You do the math and decide whether it makes sense to surrender North Carolina’s brand to an obsolete advertising technology which represents a tiny number of jobs and almost no tax revenue.

Then, it might be a good idea to let your elected representative know how you feel.

Of course, tourism isn’t the only consideration.

On the other side of the ledger, not only is scenic character the reason visitors including more than 80% of newcomers and relocating visitors find North Carolina appealing but making trees and vegetation a priority yields air and water purification, carbon sequestration and of course, private property values and quality of place.

Of course, billboard companies, nearly all of them headquartered out-of-state, have obviously filled the ears of lawmakers otherwise.  Too bad they aren’t subject to greater ethical compliance regulations, too.

As for my former profession in community destination marketing or visitor-centric economic and cultural development, it is a good sign that 200 have earned accreditation which includes having a code of ethics.

But it reminds me of when employers found it wasn’t enough on applicants to ask if job applicants had a car, so they added a follow-up question, “Does it run?”

Destination Marketing Association International dropped a long standing requirement that members and their staff members sign a code of ethics about a decade ago now because some “good ‘ole boys” couldn’t see how to enforce it, especially when other “good ‘ole boys” were in violation.

Of course, the answer was easy.  Throw the bums out!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Closing Gaps to Enhance North Carolina’s Curb Appeal

The comprehensive litter report for North Carolina is out.  It is required by state law and carried out by NCDOT’s Office of Beautification, a part of the Roadside Environmental Unit.

Roadside is also the unit responsible for creation of Scenic Byways and North Carolina’s award-winning wildflower program.

The annual report is assembled each spring to document interagency efforts to clean up, and in some cases even beautify, roadways and streams throughout the state.

It includes some of those performed by nonprofits and other groups of volunteers, as well, but not all.

There are many ways communities should be using the report including publishing similar reports that delve deeper into efforts at the local level for towns, cities and counties.

The report provides details each year that can and should be used to establish metrics for benchmark communities.  Some breakdowns by county are not always included which is a shame.

These are input and output averages that can be compared over time against similar sized jurisdictions, or better yet, on a per population metric that includes:

  • residents who live there
  • non-residents who commute there for work or school
  • inbound daytrip and overnight visitors

As comprehensive as the state-wide report is, there are some glaring gaps.

For instance it does not include losses due roadside deforestation including those billboard companies now permitted to clear cut huge swaths of forest, nor agency efforts related to reforestation and afforestation along roadsides as well as increase wildflower acreage.

Data such as this would be useful to calibrate related beautification efforts to shore up an important element of the North Carolina brand, but it would also illustrate a need for a roadside forest management plan.

Clear in the report is how much effort goes into picking up after people compared to proactive efforts to enhance the state’s curb appeal to a new level, as well as how little by comparison is done to police the deliberate desecration of roadsides and streams.

Knowing, for instance, that 150 tons of trash and debris were removed from 1,300 miles of streams across the state during the annual fall cleanup is impressive.  (Note that communities such as Durham where I live do this twice a year with hundreds of “little” sweeps throughout the year.)

But it doesn’t appear any forensic analysis was conducted to identify litter sources for follow up either to address ignorance if that was the cause, or to prosecute when it is being done deliberately.

Litter citations and convictions at the end of the report merely illustrate that both law enforcement agencies and cleanup efforts are failing to follow up on behavioral studies.

For instance, we know now to carefully monitor abuse of animals because it is a sign that domestic abuse of spouses and children is also likely at these locations.

Similarly, we know from national studies of littering not only what portion of the public is involved (17%) but the percentage that do it deliberately (4%.)

Furthermore, we know that not only do smokers contribute significantly to the littler stream, but even when butts are excluded, they are two times more likely to litter.

This means that educational and enforcement efforts can be more effective if focused on the 15% (13.4% daily) who smoke.  It also means that educational efforts are best focused on socio-economic groups where use of tobacco products is exceptionally high.

The findings also suggest that dealing with mental health issues such as depression is a means to reduce litter and debris in streams and along roadsides.

It is difficult to understand why Durham County with a greater ratio of commuters and visitors per 1000 residents than Wake County but with only 1/3rd the land area and resident population, issues less than 1/10th the number of annual citations for littering.

There are many ways that appearance advocates, beautification groups and policy makers can use the valuable information in this report.

But making the appearance of the state, as well as its towns, cities and counties as much a priority with lawmakers as it is with residents, visitors and newcomers, including those seeking to relocate businesses, will close the biggest gap of all.

Strategy is about alignment.  If job creation and enhancing the North Carolina brand are important objectives, we need to make appearance and beautification an overarching priority.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Idaho’s “Red Dirt” Inspirations

I was reminded while streaming the movie Soda Springs, just how much Oklahoma meant to me growing up where the Middle and Northern Rockies of Idaho intersect.

For a few years, KOMA 1520 was the only way kids like me who were coming of age between the late 1950s and 1960s in the Mountain region of the west could hear the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Wolfman Jack.

Atmospheric conditions late at night made the Oklahoma City station seem like the center of our cultural universe.

But the movie reminded me of an even stronger connection between Idaho and the part of Oklahoma around Stillwater, which is the center of “Red Dirt,” a genre of Country rock where indie rock and alt-country intersect into Americana.

Many people think “Red Dirt” emerged in the 1990s but for me it is the sound heard on the bootleg Basement Tape cut in early 1967 by Bob Dylan and what became the group The Band.

Long before they were officially released, Wolfman made many of the songs hits such as I Shall Be Released and Quinn the Eskimo.  You can also hear its influence on music Dylan recorded a few years later with Leon Russell.

Red Dirt music transcends geography.

Today you can hear its influence on Garth Brooks and Miranda Lambert.  The movie Soda Springs reminded me of an Idaho connection to the stars who have remained true to the genre such as Mickey and the Motorcars and Reckless Kelly.

The ancestral ranch where I was born rests where the Bitterroots and Tetons meet along the 5,259 foot Yellowstone Highlands.

A six day ride by horseback from the back of the ranch west of Ashton takes you down across sagebrush valleys and back up to Challis at 5,253 feet in the drier mountains of central Idaho.

About the same population of around 1,000, Ashton and Challis, until recently were also rivals in sports until put in different divisions.

Challis has spawned two of the top Red Dirt bands founded by brothers in the Braun family who are now Austin-based.  They come home to Challis and Idaho each year for a Red Dirt music festival in August that I hope to catch one year on my way to an annual lakeside rendezvous.

The movie features two of my Red Dirt favorites Rock Springs to Cheyenne and Carolina Morning, both of which prominently feature mentions of Idaho, one written by an Idaho native and the other by a transplant and both performed by a band formed in Idaho.

The former was written in 1982 by Kip Attaway based on his seminal trip to Idaho in the “winter of ‘72,” at a time when a few months from graduating at BYU, I was experiencing my own bad stretch.

The latter was written in 1988 by Idaho rancher-songwriter Pinto Bennett but I enjoy the versions performed by the current day Red Dirt band Mickey and the Motorcars.

They predate the song Idaho written in 2006 by Americana artist Josh Ritter.  All three songs emote the Country Rock sound of the early 1970s pioneered by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris and made famous by the Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and the Eagles.

Soda Springs the movie, like Red Dirt country, is unpretentious like the state it depictsIt is an hours drive north of where my fifth generation Idaho roots first took hold before it was a territory, long before it was a state.

My maternal grandparents lived in and around Soda from the time I was born until I was in high school.  The mountains are softer there than in my native nook but have their own story to tell.

It is a simple story set in Idaho, unmistakably filmed in Idaho, written and produced and sound-tracked by Idahoans who, like me see it far more for its mountains, rivers, lakes and range land than the corner where world famous potatoes grow.

For anyone unable to discern distinctions, you may find the first few lines of Red Dirt pioneer Tom Skinner’s song Nickels Worth of Difference useful solace.

For anyone needing a country genre scorecard, click here.

If you’ve Never Been Out West or to Idaho, it is true “the mountains touch the sky.” But its subtleties are best experiences on horseback.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Culture, Mindset, Analytics and Nonprofits

A recent article heralded the halo effect of advertising, but the almost impossible task of measuring the effectiveness of traditional advertising means any probable halo effect is more attributable to marketing.

This is because marketing is a blend of various communication activities, only one of which is advertising, and less and less of that is traditional advertising which experts now find has an overall negative return on investment.

It is this blend, when customized to each organization, that creates a synergy transcendent of any of its elements.

Unfortunately, a survey released this month shows that less than a third of marketers (32%) put data and metrics “at the heart of their strategic decision-making.

What is disturbing about that finding is that data-driven marketing is nothing new.  By the early 1980s, it had found its way to the core of a small nonprofit community marketing organization I led.

Granted, I was an “early adopter,” as I still was in 1989 with similar startup with which I was involved.

But seeing how quickly this approach enabled early adopters to leapfrog more established competitors, one would expect it to be more mainstream by now.

Studies pinpoint that the reason so many marketers remain mired so far in the past is because of they lack a strategic mindset even though recruiters for top marketing positions now find that attribute, along with analytic skills, more important for marketing leadership than creativity.

A study conducted in 2012, long after I retired from four decades in the field of community marketing, showed that the nonprofit sector in the U.S. had grown 3.5 times the rate of the for-profit sector.

Fast Company magazine surveyed their ten most innovative companies in not-for-profit recently to ascertain what talents and skills will be in most demand in this sector over the next five years.

Top are data-savvy skills.  Next come design skills.

Those, along with technology were at the core of my last non-profit startup 26 years ago.  I don’t say that to gloat but out of puzzlement. We couldn’t have been three decades ahead.  Really!

If I stumbled into those competitive advantages so long ago, how is it that so many of my former peers across the country apparently still don’t get it or is it?  Or maybe its that their governing boards don’t get it?

Survey results show that 96% of marketers today know that data is important or very important including 9-out-of-10 in senior management but as the authors point out, that is very different than knowing how to collect, manage, analyze and utilize it.

Telling is that fewer than half of marketing organizations give more than half of their own employees access to their data.

This is why so many go to the trouble of contracting analysis to show how effective their marketing strategies are, known as the “turn-on” ratio.

However, they nearly always fail to measure the equally significant “turn-off” ratio such as when their ads are merely a form of yelling or placed in the wrong context such as on billboards where they are associated with desecration.

Even Super Bowl ads have a 5-to-1 turn-off to turn-on ratio, further illustrating that less than a third of marketers have data and analytics at the heart of strategic decisions.

Marketers will be in high demand if they have a strategic mindset, understand analytics and design and recognize that marketing is not only about “turning-on” consumers but minimizing “turn-off.”

The president of the Rockefeller Foundation is quoted as saying that nonprofits in general are projected to continue to hire more talent than the for-profit sector over at least the next five years.

Silverpop, an IBM company, has just published an ebook entitled, The New CMO Guide – A Handbook for Marketing Leaders.  This is also an example of content marketing, a form of advertising that has replaced traditional advertising.

The authors note research showing that 82% of marketers feel unprepared to deal with the data explosion.  In part, this is why the average tenure for chief marketing officers is now only 48 months.

Even more so, this may also explain why, according to Spencer Stuart, this tenure was less than 24 months just a decade ago when the importance of data belatedly began to dawn on marketers.

But especially in the field of community marketing, hiring a chief executive with a strategic mindset who understands analytics isn’t enough.

It is an organization’s culture that makes all the difference and sets the tone for “innovation, growth, market leadership, ethical behavior and customer satisfaction,” according to a new white paper published by Spencer Stuart, also a form of content marketing.

It was management guru Peter Drucker who originally discussed that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” later modified by others as “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

But Drucker wasn’t referring to a document as much as the strategic mindset.

Culture in the organizational sense is what Dr. Kelly Page of NativeHQ refers to as “an iterative process over time that we enact, guided by vision and values forged through conversation and collaboration…our individual and collective voice over time.”

Shawn Parr, head of Bulldog Drummond, encourages us to view an organization’s culture as a “nurturing habitat for success.”

He continues that “Cultural cannot be manufactured;  It has to be genuinely nurtured by everyone from the CEO down.  Ignoring the health of your culture is like letting aquarium water get dirty.

A shared culture creates critical alignment.  And that alignment must also include each and every member of an organization’s governing board.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Promising Sign Regarding Sign Desecration

Results of a new poll of North Carolina voters shows that when it comes to provisions of a new billboard bill, legislators who have felt insulated may finally be risking support at the ballot box.

As smoothly and many feel deceptively crafted as SB 320 and HB 304 were  by the billboard lobby, North Carolinians are overwhelmingly opposed to its provisions.

But bi-partisan voter opposition to bills that favor out-of-state billboard companies isn’t new.  More telling this time is that the opposition is strong regardless of gender and geography.

Historically, men have been less protective of scenic preservation but this time they poll even more opposed to these bills than women.

Opposition to provisions such as permitting digital even where they are now prohibited runs 2 to 1 in the northeast and southeast and 3 to 1 along the mountains and metro areas where cities have already permitted them.

Of course, opposition is also high across the age groups billboarders and their remaining advertisers are trying hardest to reach.  The poll shows 5-to-1 opposed for those between age 30 and 45, increasing to 8-to-1 opposed among those age 46-65.Topless!

Of particular note to the few advertisers still using billboards is the high turn-off to turn-on ratio they have among consumers they are hoping to reach.

But most revealing is how voters plan to hold supporters accountable.

For a decade now, studies have found that elected officials are rarely held accountable at the ballot box, in part, because “the voices of American citizens are raised and heard unequally,” opening the door for special interests.

This is why a tax loophole, one of the six largest, permits billboard companies to escape paying their share of taxes by claiming their profits are only “rents.” 

Ironically, “rent-seeking” is also the word economists use to describe when companies such as these work the political system to gain favorable treatment rather than working to create economic value in the marketplace.

Similarly, this new legislation would also create another big loophole, permitting thousands of illegal billboards to become legal overnight, further desecrating the North Carolina brand.

To further assault North Carolina taxpayers, if passed and signed by the Governor, this new legislation will also guarantee billboard companies millions of dollars for each one that is removed when it comes time to widen the roadway.

This, even though the courts have ruled the billboards parasitic property because they would have no value in the first place were it not for the taxpayer funded roadways.

However, according to the poll, Tar Heel voters recognize that this is essentially a tax increase on them to benefit out-of-state billboard companies, not exactly the kind of tax-shifting voters like.

This provision in the proposed North Carolina legislation made voters overall less likely to support a legislator who votes for the bill by almost 5-to-1, including 4-to-1 among Republican voters.

If voters remember and follow through come election time, this would represent a sea-change where elected officials are held more accountable for actions they felt were safe in the past because they harmed only those who were not their constituents.

It is a mistaken calculus often used by organizations such as chambers of commerce and more passively, some tourism organizations, which align with the 1/5th of Carolinians who ally with the billboarders, including some doing so in direct opposition to the wishes of businesses and residents in their communities.

This latest poll may reveal not just overwhelming opposition but emergence of a resentment that could drive North Carolina voters to ban billboards altogether one day as voters have in some other states.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Centrifugal Forces of Identity and Inequality

Short memories recently heralded the news of Durham, North Carolina’s population growth by attributing it to a revitalized downtown.

But that doesn’t explain why Durham was the fastest growing city in the state over the decade of the 1990s, a decade before downtown’s reawakening.

We forget that the Census of 2010 identified 178 million square miles in the U.S. where no one lives, meaning that around 47% of the America is unoccupied.

Carolina Demography reminds us that a decade ago, 40% of the nation’s counties had lost population between 2000 and 2004 including 10 in North Carolina.

But in the period between 2010 and 2014, 53% of the nation’s counties lost population including more than half of those in the South and half of the 100 counties in North Carolina, one of the nation’s fastest growing states.

Some of this is due to out-migration and some because the remaining population is aging out.

Rather than seeking to study and emulate places such as Durham as a “best practice, a few, very frustrated regressives in state legislatures here and across the country are pushing through repeated legislation to defile cities.

Otherwise reasonable people, they fit the definition Gallup uses in studies to identify those who seek to undermine any work environment, as “actively disengaged.”

But this relatively small group of regressives isn’t the reason this ongoing defilement of places is taking place in states such as North Carolina.

The enablers are those peers who are merely disengaged, roughly half, according to studies.

Just putting in time, these enablers fail to study or even read legislation trading the input of constituents for that of special interests paying for access or hoping for reciprocity.

An eventual sea-change when it inevitably comes will be when voters begin to hold accountable this latter group.

People often wonder if cities and towns really matter to people, in part, because it seems so many are in such a hurry to destroy what makes them distinct and marketable.

But surveys which I repeated in a former life after seeing confidential results of polling by news outlets show that individual cities not only matter but so do the neighborhoods and streets where dwellers live.

Since the 1950s, when broadcast licenses were issued for television, those meant to serve Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and more than 20 surrounding counties, used their airwaves instead to try and erase the identities of individual communities.

The reason, of course, was that they could charge more to advertisers if they could hoodwink them into believing consumers would commute long distances to buy something readily available closer by.

Repeatedly, however, opinion polls showed that overwhelmingly, people preferred to characterize where they live by the name of a specific city, town or county.

Next in characterization came specific neighborhoods and streets and a very distant fourth came the notion of region so desperately pushed by broadcasters.

Rather than castrating cities and towns or trying to stamp out their identities, or pit rural and urban areas against one another, we should look at where the problems intersect.

A good start might be to carefully read a Brookings Institution report released last summer entitled The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to 2008-2012 when the number of people living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 5 million.

Secondly is recommended a study of Complete Streets, particularly as they relate to economic development.  Don’t get too literal as you read this.  Strategically, it is relevant to rural areas as urban.

Third is a book entitled, The Vanishing Neighbor and its explanation of the importance of networks, especially those involving the less intimate “middle rings.”

Tying these resources together, a reading is recommended of a new book entitled Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by renowned sociological researcher Dr. Robert Putnum who also wrote Bowling Alone and co-wrote American Grace.

Putnam traces the roots of today’s inequality and lack of upward mobility through towns, neighborhoods, families, parenting, schooling and community and proposes remedies in each area.

What he calls the centrifugal dispersion that altered cities and towns creating economic and class disparities, especially racial, probably also created a vacuum and related suction, as centrifugal forces do in a pump, that similarly also impacted rural areas.

We need to work together not against one another to resolve both.

It must begin, I believe, by electing truly engaged public officials at every level and in every district.

I am referring to representatives who are willing to stand up against special interests and who hear the voices of all citizens equally, even if they are not raised equally.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Capacity for Managing

Having just read a report entitled, The State of the American Manager, I’m reminded of a retort from Elder Cunningham, a character in the touring Broadway musical, Book of Mormon.

Reminded before leaving by his father to just do whatever his companion tells him to do, Cunningham humorously declares:

“Right, I am a follower.”

I won’t be a “spoiler” for anyone who has yet to see it, but researchers at Gallup find that only 1-in-10 people have the innate talent to lead and another two-in-10 manifest some of the talents necessary.

A talent by this definition is a “natural capacity for excellence.”  We can “learn skills, develop knowledge and gain experience” but we cannot “acquire talent.”

I must divulge that for several years beginning in the late 1980s, I was a mentee of the late Don Clifton, who did a lot of research on talent and strengths.

The company Gallup, which was acquired by his company during that span, has continued to delve deeper and deeper into the psychology of strengths and workplace engagement.

I kept a copy of an assessment he and an associate did of me in November 1986 which had been requested by my governing board to serve as a template for selecting a successor.

We stayed in touch off and on until the early 1990s but based on my spotty track record at vetting individual contributors who would also be good managers, I needed much more of his tutelage.

The just-released report lists five talent “dimensions” for good managers that have evolved from his work: “motivator,” “assertiveness,” “accountability,” relationships” and “decision-making.”

These “dimensions” have evolved only slightly from those Clifton noted in November 1986 on a profile my governing board would use to select my successor.

Two areas highlighted in Clifton’s assessment of me proved cautionary and useful during the remainder of my four-decade career as an executive.

I “attracted and worked best,” he noted, with “talented, bright, aggressive individuals” whom I could develop and grow but a “duality” in my nature led me to be conservative, introspective—and at times, even insecure” when it came to building and trusting relationships.

In small organizations, such as those that I led, with a workforce of no more than two dozen, it is hard not to want and need individual contributions to take on management roles in order to keep good talent.

But without the required talents for management, this backfires, leading to managers who are half as engaged as those with the talents noted in the report, and who often when compared to when they were individual contributors become disengaged, or even actively disengaged.

The report notes that the top two reasons people are typically made managers are because they were successful in a previous non-management role or because they had a lot of experience and tenure.

This is even more typical in a small organization.  But as the report notes, “managers should be grown not promoted” and that should start with an assessment of whether they have the natural capacities.

Subsequent analysis of why previously successful organizations often fail cite a decline in capacity, which even more than sustainable funding, is identified by a gradual decline in management capacity.

The landscapes of communities are littered with the corpses of broken organizations, not because they were obsolete or ineffective but because officials and governing boards failed to give them the capacity to endure, including good leadership.

The only thing worse than a “glass ceiling” is placing people in positions of management who lack the talent, interest or engagement.

On the upside, someone with management talent will have “a profound impact on engagement [within an organization’s workforce], and that engagement has a profound impact on just about everything that matters to an organization’s long-term viability.”

The report is well worth reading and re-reading.

Training is a must, but may not be the answer.  It is far better to do a talent assessment of an individual for management before investing in training.

A recent report by McKinsey & Company based on a survey of executives around the world last year shows a high level of frustration over the lack of metrics tying training to business performance.

The 14% of organizations that identified capability building as on of their top-three strategic priorities, appear more confident that learning programs that “use a range of qualitative and quantitative measures were generally better at meeting the stated targets.”

Gallup appears to have a model worth investigating which first identifies the talents and strengths of individuals and then tailors learning to build on those foundations.

The consummate individual contributors are sales people.  Based on his research, Steve W. Martin who teaches at USC Marshall noted What Separates the Strongest Salespeople from the Weakest in an article in Harvard Business Review.

Some talents such as verbal acuity, achievement oriented personality and situational dominance were not surprising based on my experience nor was the fact that only 46% agreed that their sales manager had an impact.

But nearly 70% of the higher performers rated their sales manager as excellent or above average.  But high performers and low performers identified different attributes for a great sales manager.

Standing out was leadership, management and coaching skills.

A key to selecting high performing individual contributors as sales people is an “inward pessimism” that drives them to ask prospects tougher qualifying questions and seek out true decision-makers.

Key for a high performing sales organization overall is super-accountability, one of the five talent “dimensions” identified for managers in general in the Gallup report.

Don Clifton would be smiling.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

The Hallmark for Tomorrow's Leaders

Whenever I guest lecture to students in hospitality, many of whom are training to follow my now concluded career path in visitor centric economic and cultural development I jokingly caution them about two things.

But I am not really joking when I tell them that while they will probably graduate from college in the top 1% of knowledge in that field, they will quickly face two challenges.

The odds that their supervisor is engaged and still learning are slim because workplace surveys show that even among managers, only 35% are what experts call “engaged,” while 51% are just putting in time.

An even more worrisome 14% are actively trying to undermine others.

The second challenge they will face is that within a few months the relevance of their knowledge begins to degrade becoming obsolete within the same amount of time it took them to graduate.

Knowledge today is fleeting or “disposable” in the words of leadership researcher and fellow alumnus Liz Wiseman, although 15 years apart in our tenure at BYU.  A key to being workplace engaged is to be a continuous and never-ending learner.

A book Wiseman published six months ago had given me pause of introspection about my career and what people may have seen in me that caused them to put me in the “pilot’s” seat of my first DMO within 36 months of graduating from college.

The book is entitled Rookie Smarts – Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work.

Wiseman doesn’t discount the value of experience but promotes the evidence that “real vibrancy comes from thinking young…with the acuity and agility of a newcomer...” and generating new learning every day.

With experience comes the ability to see patterns and if given the propensity, to think strategically but Wiseman supports the science that one of the key differences “between masters and novices is their strategic horizon.”

The book isn’t written to inspire rookies, though it will, but to inspire veterans to channel their inner rookie smarts.

I came into my first CEO position for a DMO in my mid-20s and about 80 years after the first DMO in the nation was established.  But it was clear to this rookie then that most DMOs had failed to evolve.

The next thirty years were a golden age of community destination marketing for early adopters with advances in research, polling and analytics as well as the rediscovery of the importance of sense of place and placed based assets.

This was the span of time when travel for conventions went into a long, slow decline, now just 10% of travel overall.  It was also when traditional advertising tipped into decline as a marketing tool, sliding to a negative return on investment.

It was a period when federal government innovations such as the Input-Output model for measuring economic impact, GPS, mobile telephony and the Internet were made available for consumer use and coupled with personal computers including Smart Devices to fuel the sharing economy.

Who wouldn’t think like a rookie with changes such as these making so much knowledge disposable?

However, judging by a metric for those willing to undergo third party diagnosis, I fear that 80% of DMO execs may have either retired in place or have been mothballed in place by their governing boards or community leaders.

But even if the reason these DMOs seem decades behind is due to the latter, organizational researchers at Bocconi University and Singapore Management University find that for subordinates, being candid to power holders pays off.

Graduates seeking a career in community destination marketing won’t have to worry about DMOs becoming obsolete as one or two outside consultants always seem to warn although there are plenty of communities on track to become unmarketable.

Places where DMOs will always be relevant regardless of technological changes are those that focus on:

  • Telling a community’s story
  • Protecting and fostering sense of place and authenticity
  • Providing valuable content rather than advertising
  • Safeguarding and defending a community’s image and brand

Those roles are at the very core of community destination marketing.  But communities hell-bent on the following will not need a DMO only an ATM because they:

  • Subvert sense of place for mainstream facilities
  • Subsidize events to locate or relocate there
  • Mistake advertising and catchy taglines for branding
  • Worship at the altar of “build it and they will come”

In her book, Wiseman uses the terms rookie and veteran for mindsets that “illustrate patterns of behavior.”   DMOs have always functioned in a VACU world, an acronym for and environment of “Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity” and none more so than today.

But those trapped in the strategies I noted above are as Wiseman puts it “on a slippery slope from trophy to atrophy.”

While DMOs will always be in demand wherever sense of place thrives, it is true that many communities are quickly becoming obsolete as destinations.

For any community wishing to change course before it is too late, read the part of the book when Wiseman worked at Oracle and its founder, Larry Ellison suggested she cut her staff by 77% and rebuild.

Communities need DMOs where “professionals…operate less like Caretakers and more like Backpackers, unencumbered by their current reality and able to explore and agilely investigate beyond immediate boundaries.”

Many books on leadership and workplace success should have been a white paper or even a blog post.

Rookie Smarts, however, is jam packed with relevant and useful information on every page and one that I would add to the bookshelf if I were just a rookie starting out after college.