Thursday, May 28, 2015

Four Behaviors That Stifle Strategic Thinking

One thing I don’t miss from my former life is being invited several times a year by other organizations to participate in so-called “strategic planning” sessions.

Never mind that regardless of intent, nearly all of them ended up having nothing to do with strategic thinking, dumbed down instead to developing a tactical to-do list.

Real strategy-making deals with uncertainty and ambiguity and very few people are comfortable with that.  More on that later in this essay but there is another reason these sessions usually end up being a waste of time.

It is because they nearly always employ the outdated 1950s notion of brainstorming, which until discredited in the 1960s was promoted as a means to increase creativity by 50%.

So run as fast as possible from any group today still using this practice.  It has long been shown to suck the life out of creativity instead.

I’m not talking about soliciting ideas, observations and input in group settings which can later be analyzed and filtered for patterns and connections that could be useful strategically.

I’m talking about sessions where groups are asked to distill or narrow down the input as a group.

Whether it be participants, governing boards, teams, executives or even some consultants, there are four types of behaviors that undermine this endeavor according to experts such as Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

“Social loafing” is one which is the predisposition of many people to become bystanders when in a group setting, looking much as if they are watching a tennis match.

Then there is “social anxiety” which refers to those poor souls who, rather than engage in critical thinking, soon begin to defend other people’s ideas from serious scrutiny and evaluation.
They are usually also the folks who cut off debate, “bless their hearts.”

Even if a few people in the group are given to discussion, evaluation and strategic thinking, others engage in what is called “regression to the mean,” meaning they dumb down the results of the meeting to the level of those who don’t or won’t or can’t think critically.

Some of this is due to what is called “production blocking,” terminology researchers use to describe a phenomena related to the size of the group.

It refers to the fact that the number of good ideas generated by a group plateaus when there are more than six or seven participants and plummets as the size of the group increases.

And this is even before what I call the “good ole boy” effect occurs, which is when two or three participants align on an agenda in advance of the brainstorming and spend the session trying to persuade or more often bully the group into getting their way.

I can’t tell you how many times I was invited to these sessions because of my expertise in strategic visitor-centric economic and cultural development only to be forced to listen to someone without a clue pontificate on how something would be great for tourism.

Now the new CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, Chamorro-Premuzic explains the behavior of those who were so eager to lecture me on what was good for tourism in his recent book entitled, Confidence: How Much You Really Need and How to Get It.

My problem was never confidence.  But shaping community consensus taught me how often it is that far too many otherwise reasonable people get hoodwinked, as noted in the book, when lobbied by those high on the narcissism scale, into mistaking confidence for competence.

Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic has also found that virtual or online collaboration is far more productive than in-person group think not only because it tempers these behaviors but because participants become more thoughtful overall.

Most so-called strategic efforts, however, actually digress into tactical plans.  The late Stephen G. Haines, an expert in strategy-making distinguished strategic as the “what” versus the tactical of “how.”

Think “roadmap” versus the “vehicles for the trip.”

To paraphrase Gallup experts in the psychology of workplace strengths, being strategic comes from being able to see patterns in data and events “where others simply see complexity.”

Okay, “piece a cake,” right?

The key word is “patterns.”  People who can quickly see patterns and make connections strategically use that ability to sort through various scenarios and see alternatives which allows them to be more creative and innovative.

The reason so few people are strategically inclined is that it requires being comfortable with uncertainty.  Fear of impatience with uncertainty can make us disregard important cues.
In her classic book Beyond Fear, Dr. Dorothy Rowe, a clinical psychologist, argues that more than death itself, we fear uncertainty.

But the comfort with uncertainty that comes with being strategic is much more than falling back on intuition, at least the kinds that are merely gut instincts or snap judgments, which also give profiling a bad name.

It comes down to what Dr. William Duggan at Columbia describes as Strategic Intuition in his book by that title, “a clear thought,” but “not fast” and even somewhat “slow.”

Think “percolate” when you think of strategic intuition or what Steven Johnson calls a “slow hunch” in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, which by contrast is another reason brainstorming sessions end up being so superficial.

In a now classic white paper for McKinsey & Company, Dr. Hugh Courtney who is now the Dean of International Business and Strategy at Northeastern, broke “uncertainty” down into four levels.

Level 1 is “A clear enough future” based on market research and near term capacity, which in my experience is where most organizations stop when attempting to think strategically, if at all.

Level 2 deals with “alternative futures” often in my experience related to trying to keep up with, emulate or “fast follow” competitors, again pretty straight forward but near term in nature.

Level 3 is when a push is made to deal on a spectrum with “a range of futures” but still pretty predictable.

Level 4 is looking out into “true ambiguity,” still data-derivative but more qualitative and speculative in nature.

Plans should strive to deal with all four levels but most clearly stop at the first.  Insights into level 4 often comes from looking back at history for clues to patterns that will influence the future.

Truly strategic organizations employ all four levels but organically evolve strategies by immediately informing them as new information become available.

It is amazing how rapid, in a relative sense, that even the most long term uncertainties are able to be dialed into focus, only to be replaced by more longer term uncertainties.

Why bother then?  Because research confirms that more strategic organizations are not only more nimble and innovative but they perform at higher levels.

But strategy-making is hard work, even for people who are naturally inclined.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Winter’s Day Detour

At the end of the segment from Salina, Kansas, I parked Mugs, my English Bulldog, at the hotel in Rawlins, Wyoming and headed downtown for a good steak at the Aspen House.

As I parked, I couldn’t help but notice that the truck next to me had plates from neighboring Idaho which, if I remember the codes, indicate the county from which the driver, or at least the vehicle, comes.

My native Fremont County is “2F” but I noticed the truck had the code for Franklin County, “1F”, which is where my 5th generation bloodlines first took root, creating the first permanent settlement before Idaho was even a territory.

As horsemen and cattlemen, they migrated forty-five years later up near the Tetons where I would be raised forty years later.

But as we waited for our steaks, the guy who owned the truck was able to tell me about a detour Mugs and I were planning to take the next day to a point midway to Casper called Devil’s Gate, shown in the image in this post.

For fans of the TV series , now in a fourth season thanks to Netflix, it is still several hours north to the mythical setting along the Big Horns for Longmire.

Even more dramatic than the photo, Devil’s Gate is a narrow cleft, barely thirty feet wide at the base, which runs along the Sweetwater River for more than a quarter mile between towering 400’-500’ cliffs of granite.

All but four of sixteen lines of my fourth generation ancestors and several sets of the fifth, had passed by this landmark between 1847 and 1851 on Mormon wagon trains.

They descended from families who had immigrated to America many generates earlier, some more than two hundred years before.

But four lines of my ancestors traveled this route between 1855 and 1862, after immigrating directly from Scotland and England aboard packet-ships.

These were three mast, square-rigged sailing ships running from Liverpool to ports such as Boston and Philadelphia with three levels below deck.  The bottom hold was for cargo and mail.  The top for those who could afford staterooms.

The middle desk, called steerage, was lined on each side with bunk beds with an alley way between.  Each passenger was given a supply of food and they shared a small galley for prep.

Those on this deck were poor with travel made possible by a perpetual immigration fund that was beginning to run short.

So when when my then 55-year-old third great grandmother Maria Christmas White stepped off the ship Horizon onto Constitution Wharf in Boston on June 30, 1856 she had a different experience ahead than those went before or after her.

After crossing by train through Albany, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland and down to Iowa City, Iowa, she would have to walk the nearly 1,300 mile journey up and into the Rockies while pulling a 4’x 6’ or 7’ handcart that she shared with four other people.

Instead of crossing the Great Plains into the Rockies on a wagon train as those before and after her would, she was assigned to pull her possessions across the nearly 1,300 miles (two hundred miles further) by foot ahead of a handcart.

She and the others were allowed to take only 17 lbs. of personal belongings each, forcing those fortunate to still have keepsakes to leave them in the fields outside Iowa City as my great (x3) grandmother’s handcart company departed.

The mortality rate overall among Mormon pioneer companies traveling the 1,100 mile route across the plains and into the Rockies was just slightly higher than the average nationwide.  In fact, infant mortality on the trail was lower than the national average.

But in 1856, the Martin Handcart Company that included my great (x3) grandmother left very late in the season and was trapped in snow storms and freezing weather across Wyoming.

Express riders passing them on horseback soon warned Brigham Young that the hand-carters were in serious trouble still east of Devil’s Gate.

A rescue party was organized followed by resupply wagons, and among the riders was Thomas Ricks, a 9th cousin two times removed from common ancestors in the 1500s.

It would be Ricks that my Bowman ancestors would follow up into the Yellowstone-Teton nook of Idaho after he settled along the Henry’s Fork in the 1883, 27 miles south of what would become our ranch.

On November 1st, the rescue riders reached my great (x3) grandmother’s handcart company on Greasewood Creek, 16 miles east of Devil’s Gate, where they took them briefly to regroup and then to a cove just southwest where there was more wood and shelter.

Rescue wagons reached the group, but not before they had suffered a mortality rate nearly five times greater than the average for wagon trains, having lost 145 members.

Coincidentally, Maria Christmas White finally made it to Salt Lake City, just as the first generation of my Idaho ancestors, great-great grandparents on the Bowman side, were getting married and contemplating the move up to Cub River Canyon.

The party who brought the wagons of supplies and then let the survivors ride them on to Salt Lake City had to wait out the winter near Devil’s Gate, surviving on saddle leather until resupplied with food by Native Americans.

A good read about what my ancestors experienced is a book by Wallace Stegner entitled, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail.

Stegner, who headed creative writing at Stanford, wasn’t Mormon but he spent some of his early years in Salt Lake after relocated there from Iowa with his parents.  For me, Mormon history and culture are at the center of his best non-fiction.

I was given the book in high school as a gift from my grandfather on the White side, Maria Christmas White’s great grandson, whose appearance he favored judging from photographs, as did my mother as she grew older.

He and his brothers had grown up sleeping in a log cabin that had been Maria Christmas White’s after her harrowing journey.

We would always drive past my grandpa White's grandparents former place on Walker’s Lane in Holladay, especially after Cottonwood Mall opened there during my teenage years, only the second in America at the time.

The excursions continued when I was attending college further south at BYU, and he would always retell great (3) grandmother’s story as he pointed out her old cabin, often adding new details he had uncovered.

She was followed four years later by her 23 year old son and 19 year old daughter in law, my great-great grandparents Thomas and Alice White, but by then those crossings had begun using wagons again.

A priceless family photo is of my grandfather, standing in front of the place on Walker’s Lane, as a ten year old, with my great-great grandparents.

A favorite breakfast spot with my daughter and grandsons when I visit is Ruth’s Diner, a few miles up Immigration Canyon from where they live, which was first established in an old Trolley Car about the time I was born.

We drive past the This Is The Place monument, a spot near where Brigham Young signaled a few days after two of two of my ancestors on the first wagon train had ridden as scouts down into Salt Lake Valley, that “this is the right place.”

It wasn’t marked at all until 1915, seventy years after my ancestors first past through the canyon on their arrival and nearly 63 years after my great (x3) grandmother rode past with her rescuers.

An obelisk was erected there in 1921. The huge monument there now wasn’t finished until 1957 when I was nine years old, 101 years after my great (x3) grandmother’s rescue.

Down in Temple Square, there is another statute honoring the handcart companies in case you visit.

But for me, no monument visit will ever top the brief detour to Devil’s Gate on a winter’s day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Restoring “Collective Efficacy” within Poor Neighborhoods

The extraordinary violence or at least the constant threat of it that plagues impoverished neighborhoods is perpetuated by a tiny minority .

It is nothing new.

It was first documented by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in the mid-1890s while doing a survey of poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia as a post doctorate fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

This was more than a decade before he would help found the NAACP and in 1899, his findings were published as a book by Penn entitled, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study.

Born at the end of the Civil War, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was perplexed by the enduring aftereffects of slavery which were deepened by the defacto racial segregation that replaced the “Black Codes” put in place as he was born.

Known as Jim Crow laws, they had even been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court during the time of his observations of black on black violence in neighborhoods that were segregated by both race and poverty.

In part, for contrast, Du Bois also went on to analyze enclaves of middle class and affluent blacks as he did in 1912 in Durham, North Carolina where I live, pointing to the influence of a more “tolerant and helpful community” even then one of the Bull City’s overarching traits.

It was the 50th anniversary of emancipation but Durham then, as it is now in so many other ways, was an outlier. Within months, the Ku Klux Klan was resurrected in Georgia and rapidly spread across the nation.

It has now been six decades since segregation was declared unconstitutional and nearly that long since he passed away at age 95 but the problems Du Bois first traced to slavery and then racial segregation still inhabit areas of deep poverty.

A new book I mentioned last week entitled, Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, is a series of sociological overviews longitudinally weaving together hundreds of studies such as Du Bois’s.

It is edited, as well as mostly written by Dr. Orlando Patterson, another black sociologist with roots at Harvard.

Patterson notes that the black homicide rate documented by Du Bois in the mid-1890s was “more than five times that of the white population.”

In the late 1980s, social historian, researcher and Haverford College professor Dr. Roger Lane took these metrics back to 1860 and then forward to the 1980s making the connection to what he referenced as a “cultural of violence long nurtured by exclusion and denial.”

By the 1960s, according to Patterson, the black homicide rate had grown to be “11.46 times that of the white rate.”  This discrepancy “peaked at 39.4 times in 1991 and has stabilized today at still about “seven times that of whites.”

Today the discrepancy among teens is more “eight times.”

The homicide offending rate today is also higher among black teenagers, “eight times the white teen rate of murders,” giving rise to awareness of black on black crimes.

While significant, Patterson does not see poverty alone as the cause although it is poor neighborhoods where both victimization and offending is highest, perpetrated by a razor thin proportion of people there.

While racism and stereotyping among police may play a role, the findings in Cultural Matrix suggest to me that a far greater possibility is that both the officers involved and the victims in these neighborhoods may have been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)

Patterson explains that “By a socially and culturally toxic environment we mean three things: the pervasive culture of violence and threat of physical danger already existing in a community of upbringing; weak neighborhood efficacy; and institutional neglect and incarceration.”

He explains neighborhood efficacy by citing studies defining “collective efficacy” such as “social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good.”

It can be more effective at instilling social controls than formal mechanisms such as police and courts, something the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, another social historian often pointed out.

According to Patterson, “Growing up in the presence of pervasive violence tends to make one violent…Black children in the inner cities perceive their world as a violent, threatening place….”

Studies show that “environmental trauma” leads to “fear conditioning” which leads to “anxiety disorders,” and “chronic anxiety” that can disrupt “the developing architecture of the brain.”

Our brains are wired to profile but if profiling is useful at all as a tool to solve this conundrum, it would not involve race or socio-economics at all.  It would go something like this:

Look for animal abuse to find abusers of children and domestic partners.  That will also be a predictor of violent offenders in the neighborhood.

For anyone truly concerned about social justice, this would also be a far more effective way to get involved.

Other “eyes and ears” should include solid waste collectors, water meter readers, cable and utility installers as well as animal control officers and of course, neighbors.

Earlier this month, Brookings published “10 facts about child well-being and health in America.”

One is that “In 2013, nearly 680,000 children were reported to states to be the victims of abuse or neglect” and “1,520 died from maltreatment…80% at the hands of their own parents.

Another is that “An estimated 13 percent of all U.S. children and 21 percent of black children will experience confirmed maltreatment at some time between birth and adulthood.”

Police need to be accountable but it is clear, according to Patterson’s book of studies, that so do parents and neighborhoods.

Poor neighborhoods must seem capable of being a war zone at time but it is crucial to remember that the vast majority living there are “friendlies.”

This even includes the vast majority of the between one and two-in-10 who are totally disconnected from society.

Repeat after me:

Look for animal abuse to find abusers of children and domestic partners.  That will also be a predictor of violent offenders in the neighborhood.

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Value of Fostering Early Memories

In the image in this essay, I am holding my middle sister who was born two years and ten months after me.

For three and a half years, it would be just the two of us.  I was three years and 10 months old when that family photo was taken.

It had become separated from thousand of other family photos and resurfaced in a box my mother left for me to organize in January when she died.Reyn and Raem

Nine months before my first sister was born, when I was two, my parents had very briefly separated.

All but four memories from before I was five or six, which is when my second sister came home, faded away because, as researchers have learned, before that age we really haven’t developed the capacity to retain them.

That’s why we are rarely able to recall memories of events before the age of three or four.

The three I can recall are flashes that were later filled in by my parents.

One is from around when that photo was taken at 3 years, 10 months when I recall being thrown over my dad’s shoulder while being carried into the house late one night after returning home from visiting our grandparents.

Another is when I was three and a half being pulled on a makeshift sled behind my parents who were on snowshoeing up to play cards one night with friends.

The third flash I recall from that period is when I was four and riding between my parents early one morning to get my tonsils removed in the new hospital in Ashton, the closest town to our ranch.

A fourth is being pushed to the floor boards of an old jeep I would later inherit as my first vehicle.  I was five and the Jeep was slowly overturning on the corner leading down to the ranch after my dad failed to negotiate a huge snow berm.

No one was hurt but I remember walking down to the ranch house where my mom was furious with my dad from fear.

I’m not unusual.  Researchers call our inability to remember much before we are three or four, “childhood amnesia.”  Theorists today believe we can recall information for weeks or months as babies.

But retaining memories involves linking them to verbal cues.

A study published a year ago by researchers at Emory University compared rates of forgetting among young children, college students and middle-aged adults.

It also replicated earlier research into childhood amnesia.

Results showed that in children the earliest memory tended to be 3.67 years.  There was no difference for different age groups or for college students or middle aged adults or even for older adults (ahem!)

In her coverage of that study and others, WSJ Work & Family columnist, Sue Shellenbarger explained that there are three kinds of memories we recall.

One relates is to events that help us feel continuity with who we are or how we’ve changed.  Another type serves to guide behavior such as things we want to avoid repeating.

A third type is “social-bonding memories” that involve relationships.

Shellenbarger continues in her review of these studies, “The ability to draw on all three types of memories predicts higher psychological well-being, a greater sense of purpose and more positive relationships.”

They also help shape better “choices in adolescence and adulthood.”

Parents, especially mothers but often fathers can aid these memories when they use a style that includes asking opened-ended questions versus just repetitive reminiscing.

My daughter manifests this elaborative style with my two grandsons.  These studies show that this is more worthwhile than just taking millions of photos.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Just Missing By A Hair A Monumental Shift

Our local paper speculated this week that the downtown “loop” has been a matter of “civic discourse for at least a couple of decades.”

Actually, it has been more like six decades if you count the discourse leading up to creating it in the mid-1950s.

It took a couple of decades to create it but after a little more than a decade in use, the same group that pushed for it, now under a different name, began advocating its demise, ironically using the same rationale used to create it.

Tragically, it’s too late for the hundreds and hundreds of historic structures that were destroyed to create the “loop,” including the iconic Durham Union Station (shown in a County Library photo below).

But the story of the “loop” is not only the story of a near miss but that of an era.

More than three decades before the early 1990s founding of today’s Downtown Durham Inc., a predecessor was formed, first as a committee of the Merchant’s Association, then as the Downtown Development Association.

When I arrived in 1989 to jumpstart Durham’s first community destination marketing agency, I gathered intelligence by interviewing many of those earlier bygone commercial activists.

Refreshingly, they were willing to look back on regrets as well as achievements.

The “loop” was meant to save downtown Durham when it was envisioned in 1958.

Forest Hills Shopping Center had just opened on the southern outskirts and by the next year, even the increasingly “Black” neighborhood to the east would have a new shopping center, Wellons Village.

Rumors, soon founded, were that the Rand family was planning another to the north.

Of course, we know now that it was television that was changing the retail landscape by promoting to viewers the misperception that vast regions were centric.

This included the notion of driving a hundred miles to buy something consumers could easily find at home, thereby robbing their own local business climate and tax base.

But it wasn’t just competition that worried downtown advocates in the mid-1950s.

Durham had been the fastest growing county in North Carolina during the 1930s and second fastest during the 1940s, just behind Mecklenburg.

But what had Durham leaders worried was how fast Durham still continued to grow into the 1950s, while the number of jobs hadn’t grown since the end of World War II, more than a decade.

Poverty had first taken root in Durham in a neighborhood now called Edgemont in 1938 after a mill closing there brought on by the Great Depression.

But Durham continued to grow economically during the war years, thanks in some part I supposed to four cigarettes including Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields being included in each WWII ratio kits.

However, that growth abruptly ended in 1947, while the flood of people moving here didn’t.

There is evidence that this imbalance is the root of Durham’s generational poverty rate today.

By 1960, when downtown advocates formally proposed creation of the “loop” to local officials, 1-in-3 Durham residents lived in poverty, as did 1-in-4 North Carolinians and about the same proportion of Americans.

One rationale used for the “loop” back then was that it would make the Research Triangle Park more attractive to tenants.

It was a new project carved out of southeast Durham pinelands just four miles from downtown that Durham leaders such as George Watts Hill and Yancey Milburn, members of the downtown group, had been furiously working to create.

The report was shaped in the immediate aftermath of a transition from federal grants for Urban Redevelopment, which had been pushed in the late 1930s, finally passed in 1949 and then re-branded as Urban Renewal in 1954.

The program, which had to overcome opposition from rural lawmakers, incentivized communities to tear down old buildings to make way for parking lots and then sell surrounding parcels to private sector developers.

However, Urban Renewal was already in disrepute by 1956, when architectural journalist Jane Jacobs gave a presentation at a Harvard conference leading up to creation of a new discipline.

It was called urban design, a fusion of architecture and planning that would focus on overall settings rather than icons.

As downtown Durham advocates began meeting to plot its salvation in 1958, they should have been reading a new book based on a series of articles that Jacobs and others had been writing in Fortune Magazine.

Entitled The Exploding Metropolis; A study of the assault on urbanism and how our cities can resist it, the essays in the book might have helped Durham not only avoid a huge mistake but leapfrog to a new paradigm.

Economic development was just beginning a transition from the 20th century’s obsession with “what you don’t have” to what urban researcher Edward T. McMahon calls the 21st century model of focusing on “what you do have,” a transition even today that so many communities have failed to make.

Instead, Durham’s downtown advocates issued a report in November, 1960 based on the falling-out-of-favor Urban Renewal, just as Jane Jacobs was putting the finishing touches on a book that would be published a year later entitled, The Death and Life of American Cities.

It rewrote the book on rebuilding cities.  In fact, Durham’s Downtown Development Association members would have had access to excerpts published months earlier in Harper’s and the Saturday Evening Post which were very popular at the time.

Jacobs advocated an organic understanding of how districts evolve, the way Ninth Street evolved in Durham during the 1970s and the way downtown Durham evolved before WWII.

She articulated the importance of innate character and what would two decades later be christened as sense of place in an essay by Wallace Stegner.

By a matter of days if not hours, Durham was caught instead on the far side of the paradigm shift and soon set about destroying vast swaths of its organic character only to discover that Durham was able to populate RTP and become an economic engine again without it.

But a decade later, what I term a sense of place revolt dramatically slowed the destruction and birthed historic preservation here, just as the movement swept across America, as much in reaction the carnage of Urban Renewal as the nation’s upcoming bicentennial.

Within a few years a new breed of private developer including a couple who taught business at Duke emerged and began to adapt historic structures to new uses rather than destroy them.

By the 1980s they were populated with offices, galleries, restaurants, artists studios, apartments, music venues and stores.

The last Durham project predicated on the destruction enabled by Urban Renewal was a convention center and adjoining hotel, which opened in 1989 just as I arrived.  They looked as though they just didn’t fit and still do.

As a seeming nod to that bygone era, every decade or so since, Durham has continued to erect an icon that doesn’t fit.  It is as though the developers, often the local governments that should know better, are still defiantly objecting to sense of place.

They seem to forget, to quote from Witold Rybczynski in Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities, that “The real challenge for cities today is not to create more icons, but rather to create more such settings.”

But as downtown advocates regrouped in the early 1990s to complete the task of revitalization, they were still plagued by the same inertia faced by predecessors nearly forty years earlier.

Back then a survey found that 76.9% of Durham residents community-wide supported the redevelopment of downtown including 57.7% who would support a new tax levy to do it.

But ironically only 41.8% of the merchants and property owners downtown were positive in regard to either redevelopment or a tax to fund it.

Fast forward four decades and the biggest suppressant to bringing downtown fully alive were landowners who didn’t have the means or interest to do so but were sitting on properties hoping others would.

This time, fortunately, the federal government came to the rescue with a new secret weapon, New Market Tax Credits, which when joined with historic tax credits and tens of millions of dollars in local government funds, created the turnaround.

Even as this second renaissance of downtown Durham took root, many were clearly still under the spell of outmoded Urban Renewal thinking such as the need for icons and very slow to grasp what Jacobs saw so clearly about the importance of sense of place and organic evolution.

In a twist of irony, Durham ended up preserving the highest proportion of its historical assets and converting them to adaptive reuse of any of North Carolina’s urban areas and most nationwide.

Yet officials, even today, seem prone to fixate on big projects rather than the little things that facilitate organic revitalization and sense of place such as the upkeep and overall community appearance noted in that 1960 downtown report.

They fail to understand that Americans, regardless of age, prefer protecting neighborhoods to revitalizing them.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Solution to Poverty is Both/And

I didn’t see his name on the program, but I wonder if the buzz among those attending the ecumenical and bipartisan-intended poverty summit held at Georgetown was regarding the new book edited and mostly written by Dr. Orlando Patterson at Harvard.

The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth, published several weeks earlier is not for the casual reader, not only because it is a little pricey but because it is dense with data and scientific findings associated with poverty.

It should be required reading for anyone who is serious about this issue or who gives it news coverage or those who flippantly betray their cynicism.

But be sure to have a fresh highlighter ready.

Black himself, Patterson is what is called a historical and cultural historian.  He is one of those sociologists who having unwrapped the intricacies of poverty believes in a mix of structural and cultural solutions to poverty.

One of the unfortunate obstacles to eliminating poverty is that people in general have divided into two camps advocating for what have become stereotypical and simplistic avatars for not having to delve into more nuanced and integrated solutions.

On one side are “structuralists” who view the solutions to poverty around structural improvements to society such as jobs, housing, addressing institutional racism, and improved access to food, education and healthcare.

Lately, this is the camp that has been all about pointing the finger at law enforcement as the impediment.

On the other side are “culturalists” who have closed their minds to anything but improved values and rooting out learned behaviors and traditions.

This, I think, is what some people are trying to say when they use those judgmental fighting words - “a culture of poverty,” which is a perversion from what this description meant when coined in 1970.

Of course, as Patterson points out, there is no such thing. That doesn’t mean that unwrapping and eliminating poverty shouldn’t involve a deeper understanding of cultural as well as structural and social justice influences, though.

Moderates like me are probably capable of irritating both camps.

The well-intended but underfunded “War on Poverty” was structural in nature.  Conservative opposition dating to the Great Depression and earlier was given stereotypes to cling too during the 1980s by President Reagan’s non-existent, “Welfare Queen” have been a brittle form of culturalist by nature.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and several Presidents since - both Republican and Democrat - including Barack Obama have tried to weave together both structural and cultural solutions.

I read Dr. Patterson’s new book after reading a fascinating op-ed he penned in the New York Times just days before this month’s poverty summit convened at Georgetown.

Entitled, The Real Problem With America’s Inner Cities, it reminded me of when I first arrived in Durham to jumpstart community marketing here.  I was still inventorying the community when I was appointed to the board of the chamber of commerce.

Having heard some disparaging remarks both about Downtown and a blighted inner city neighborhood to the East, I invited a long-time Durham resident on a field trip.  It is an area planners have re-christened North East Central Durham by planners, although it is not really north or central, to distinguish it from those further east.

My counterpart who headed the chamber accepted my invitation to drive through both neighborhoods.  My point was to show him how bustling Downtown was at night in 1990 but to also disavow him of the impression that disadvantaged neighborhoods nearby were composed entirely of jobless poor people.

We drove down several streets with well maintained for homes and lawns.  Patterson points out twenty five years later that on average, 20 to 25 percent of residents of neighborhoods such as these are “solidly working class or working poor” who are for the most part conservative when it comes to values.

In his book, Patterson notes that another 25% of disadvantaged neighborhoods are comprised of people he classifies as “ghetto middle class,” though constantly exposed to what he calls the toxicity of a core “problem minority” that varies from 12 to 28 percent.

It is a small group, whose influence often reaches into surrounding middle class neighborhoods, spawning downward mobility among youth.

This ratio explains why in surveys more than 40% of people living in or near poverty cite a decline in the desire to work among their neighbors, a view consistent with the majority of Americans.

The remarkable advantage of the book Cultural Matrix is how Patterson and co-editor/contributor and doctoral student/researcher Ethan Fosse weave longitudinally the findings of hundreds and hundreds of studies, both quantitative and observational into a readable narrative.

There are also very practical tidbits in this extraordinary book.  For instance, those hoping to unwrap the opinions of the poorest of the poor may be misled when they espouse the importance of education and work.

This minority in the poorest minority poor neighborhoods can appear to resemble conservatives as most of them espouse values such as individual effort, personal responsibility, the American Dream and being a good parent.

They also similarly express and demonstrate negative views toward government, business and institutions (especially criminal justice,) even hip-hop.

Studies show that these normative values come from a vastly higher consumption overall of media including television and contrast greatly to a reality of “structural disconnection and cultural divergence” that results in even greater suffering.

We are all vulnerable to espousing values disconnected from our actions, regardless of where we fall on the ideological spectrum, especially it seems those who claim to be the most conservative.

It is just that our hypocrisy, but for the grace of God, does not result in our own suffering.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Posts 20 Years from Now

I’ve been wondering what North Carolina will be like 20 or 30 years from now.

Growing up, my daughter was always intrigued that there were 25 years between her grandfather’s age and mine, the same span that separated the two of us.

That curiosity probably culminated the year she turned 25 just as I was turning 50 and my dad turned 75, just two years before he was gone. 

I don’t know how other people feel, but turning 67 this summer I still perceive myself in my mind’s eye as I was when I was 25 or 30.

However, the Census views me as an “older” American although, I won’t cross that threshold for another year, when I reach the age that Americans, on average, view as “older,” according to a Pew study.

But how we see ourselves in our mind’s eye is different than how we feel.  People feel about the age they are until they reach 24 and then a gap occurs gradually widening on average to people my age who feel on average almost 10 years younger eventually rising to 13.

Studies show that beginning after age 40, we grow to feel 20% younger than we are.

I’ve never been one of those people who gets anxious as they near various age benchmarks when they are adults.  But the percentage of Americans who say they are very happy doesn’t really vary much as we grow older.

A third of people my age say they are “very happy,” which is about average for all Americans.  However, the percentage who say they are “not too happy” is twice that of people who are ages 18-29. though lower than those 50-64.

There are now about 1.5 million North Carolinians who are 65 and older, classified as “older” Americans, just less than the national average.

But just as the state inched past Michigan in population becoming the ninth most populous state overall, the ranks of “older” Tar Heels has inched up two percentage points since 2010 as a share of population.

If I am fortunate enough to live to be older than my mother was when she passed in January, I will see that number increase by more than a million people over what it was in 2013 according to Carolina Demography.

That won’t be for another 20 years when “older” North Carolinians are more 21% of a population projected to be well north of 2 million people larger than today.

If I still live in North Carolina by then, I will have lived here for nearly 50 years and well more than half of my life.  I will have witnessed the state doubling its population over that time.

The jury is still out as to whether the state’s appeal will have been sustained. Will it have recovered from its recent regression?  Will it have recovered the unique sense of place that has rapidly been eroding over the past 70 years?

Will North Carolina have reclaimed its roadsides from the final vestiges of billboard blight?  Will the state and its counties be reclaiming clearings to restore their forest canopy?

Will a new generation rise up in my former field of community destination marketing, possibly from among those who hear my guest lectures, determined to reclaim and fulfill their role as guardians of unique sense of place?

Or will I be writing about its continued demise and further decent into mainstream sameness?

Will North Carolina continue on its course to The Geography of Nowhere, a “tragic sprawlscape of cartoon architecture, junked cities and ravaged countryside” forewarned by John Howard Kunstler?

Or will our state and communities have rediscovered that “chronological connectivity lends meaning and dignity to our lives?”

As Kunstler reminds us, “A land full of places that are not worth caring about will soon be a nation and a way of life that is not worth defending.”

God bless America!  God bless North Carolina!

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Origin of All Too Rare Sensibilities

You could fit nearly 182 Durham’s in the land area of North Carolina.  In land area, it is the smallest urban county in the state, yet home to the fourth largest city.

So it is surprising to visitors that there are 232 working farms here, many supplying meats, dairy and vegetables to Durham’s nationally-recognized foodie scene.                                  

This may not seem like many given that North Carolina is still a largely rural state with 50,218 farms and livestock operations according to a census regularly conducted by the US Department of Agriculture.

Throughout the four-county metro area centered around Durham, there are about 2,410 farms and livestock operations, nearly half in Chatham County.

Unlike Durham, its metro counterparts have not set aside a third of their land area in watershed and areas where working farms are safeguarded.

This area is an important part of Durham’s sense of place, which in any place where it is still preserved and fostered, always includes not only “built” and “cultural” place-based assets but “natural” as well.

Durham “farms” include 46 livestock operations raising nearly 1,000 head of beef cattle.  The ancestral ranch where I was born and spent my early years in the 1950s in the shadow of the Tetons along the Henry’s Fork raised about that same number of cattle.

In that Fremont County nook, ours was not a large operation but still more than twice the size of the average farm or ranch there today and 8 times the median for operations there.

There are still 181 ranches there growing more than 9,000 head of cattle.  But many operations have turned to farming instead using the pivot irrigation common in northeastern North Carolina now.

As an adult, I spent four-decades in a field tasked as the guardian for sense of place in three different parts of the country, including Durham, but I trace my sensibilities for that work back to our ranch.

I was reminded a month ago of a time when my daughter helped bring this into focus for me when I read of the passing of Ivan Doig a month ago.

Doig was a native Montanan who was born about two hours north across the Centennials and nine years earlier from my roots in the Teton-Yellowstone nook of Idaho.

After earning degrees at Northwestern and the University of Washington (PhD.), he worked for The Rotarian, a magazine, which is where I first read his byline.

My daughter’s Dad #2 passed Doig’s memoir, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind to her and she, in turn, passed it to me knowing how closely it paralleled some of my early influences on the ranch.

It had been written in 1978 when she was five but I was half way through my career when she passed it on to me. It was when I was going on a decade past when I became one of the first in my field to incorporate sense of place as a foundational strategy.

But it wasn’t until I read This House of Sky that I realized how early my sensibilities for sense of place had been shaped.

I have the DNA of five generations of Idaho cowboys and horsemen.

But Doig grew up a sheepherder, along the Rocky Mountain Front, just south of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, an area I’ve crossed while crisscrossing the country with Mugs and which I wrote about a few months ago.

We both shared the 1950s under the big sky of the Mountain States before migrating to urban surroundings.  But one of the reasons Doig’s memoir resonates is that it more accurately portrays the reality behind what has become the cowboy mythology of the West.

It is tempting to think of This House of Sky as a true-story Lonesome Dove, written a few years later by Larry McMurtry, a contemporary of Doig’s who can also capture landscape, but in my opinion House is far more nuanced and relatable.

I still dust off the copy my daughter gave me and read it for inspiration.  It is also a reminder that there may be no greater gift than a child who, while it is foreign to her own background, truly grasps the essence of a parent’s.

As I conclude this essay, my finger fell on a quote from House, “Memory, the near neighborhood of dream, is almost casual in its hospitality.”

And so it seems with sense of place.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Price to Obsolescence Denial – Part II

This is part II of an essay posted yesterday tracing the modern history of tourism along with that sector’s seeming inability to exercise what the late Peter Drucker called “systematic abandonment” as it relates to giving obsolete layers of organizations a proper burial.

I left off yesterday just before WWII created a lull in the widespread embrace of destination marketing organizations.  States had begun to advertise in the 1930s (the only element of marketing widely understood at the time.)

But first they had to purge their roadsides of billboard blight.  They also discovered another reason that they had the “cart before the horse” when it came to marketing.

States such as North Carolina had very little idea of what they could offer tourists.  The federal government came to the rescue again, as it had when it incentivized the building of roads.

A Depression-era program designed to put people to work rallied teams of authors and artists in each state to compile and illustrate comprehensive guide books that were then left to each respective state to publish.

In January 1937, my native Idaho’s was the first of the guides to be printed.  The remote mountain state had gone from having 5 of its 2,255 miles of roadway paved in 1922 to having 2,176 miles paved or oiled by 1936.

By the end of 1937, 400 autos a day were using the segment of the North & South Highway between Boise and Coeur d’Alene alone and officials were promoting improvements as a “means of attracting more tourists to Idaho.”

When first completed in 1927, the North & South’s terminus was at Weiser, about 74 miles short of Boise.

That segment had been completed by the time the state’s guide was published, making it possible for travelers to drive to and from Bonner’s Ferry, 30 miles shy of the Canadian border.

These state guides each catalogued detailed histories, inventories of flora, fauna, geology and archeology as well as point to point descriptions of things to see and do in each community.1939 Guide to the Old North State

Published in 1939, the guide book for North Carolina showed communities what was possible and planted the seeds for the post-World War II emergence of visitor promotion as we know it today.

That first visitors guide took nearly four years to research and produce with writers working out of eight different cities across the state.

But returning GIs across the country after World War II were impatient.

Tourism entrepreneurs, fearful states would not resume tourism marketing, began to instead organize another layer of associations, hoping to apply pressure.

Had they investigated more closely, they may have understood that the paradigm was shifting to community-based destination marketing organizations.

Key to strategic thinking is to look back in order to see forward.  A few did and jumped ahead of the shift to community-based tourism promotion.

Within five to ten years, the statewide tourism associations began to struggle for membership, as the idea of community destination marketing organizations rapidly spread and then exploded in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The shift was hastened in North Carolina when one of those returning GIs, an aviator who had survived two plane crashes in the war, pioneered the local option occupancy tax as a means to self-fund community destination marketing.

By the early 1980s, even rural communities and counties were organizing DMOs.  The vast majority of travelers by the end of that decade were destined for a specific city, town or county.

That’s when meetings began to be held to determine what do with those middle-ring associations created in that span after the war.  People who were unaware of the paradigm shift that made them obsolete only a little more than a decade later were perplexed.

At a meeting in the early 1990s to decide what to do with that layer of associations created in the 1950s, a friend of mine who worked for Biltmore at the time gently explained why that layer should be laid to rest, what Nancy Lublin calls “death by success.”

He explained that tourism organizations were by then far more connected to their respective community destination marketing organization rather than statewide or even national tourism-related associations.

It was one of a half dozen such meetings I was asked to attend over the years.  But there were always a few on both sides of the paradigm shift who didn’t accept that “pulling the plug,” could be both celebratory and merciful, preferring life support instead.

It isn’t a phenomenon unique to tourism.  There are many such organizations on life support in every community, kept there by a few people who can never seem to say goodbye and forcing many times their number to pay the price of their reticence.

In my experience, those who are reticent to pull the plug are otherwise reasonable people who also often struggle with anything strategic in nature, giving them a general lack of understanding of patterns or distinctions.

I suspect that the productivity of society in general is loaded down much more than it needs to be, merely by the reluctance to shutter the obsolete.

For those who are near-sighted when it comes to recognizing paradigm shifts from either shore, they must seem so gradual as to barely even exist.

But in fact, those who do see patterns and distinctions long before they are apparent know that the tipping point can be blindingly fast when it comes.

It is why those who perpetuate roadside billboards fail to grasp that while that form of media began its march into obsolescence in the 1930s, it recently reached its rapid conclusion over just 48 months.

It explains why progressive tourism leaders pushed for them to be banned 76 years ago, while a handful today can’t bear to see them go.

But just as we kept an old typewriter stashed in the back rooms of offices as well as fax machines more than 20 years after either had been useful, we are forced to keep layers of organizations on life support for the few who can’t bear their demise.

It is the price we pay for those who are not strategic.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

When Organizations Are Not Given A Proper Burial

One of the uniquely American traits observed at the founding of our country was the propensity for creating associations.

We’ve just never been very good at shuttering them.

Instead of celebrating a mission well accomplished and retiring them, we tend to keep them hanging around on life support while desperately scrounging to find another “parade” hoping it can leap in front and lead the band.

But this never works.

Instead, as we foster new, more relevant organizations, we weigh them down with those that have outlived their relevance rather than giving them a proper burial.

I am not referring to a failure to evolve or repurpose.  I’m referring to organizations made obsolete either by the successful completion of their mission or eclipsed by paradigm shifts.

In a twist of irony, the failure to let go of outdated organizations is often due to the fact that those involved with these transitions fail to understand patterns or distinctions.

Take cable television for example.  Now caught on the obsolete side of a paradigm shift, it hastened its demise during the paradigm shift it created decades ago by then dragging along the baggage from outdated broadcast notions of advertising.

I first became aware of this phenomena in the early 1970s as I began what would be a four-decade career in community destination marketing and found a layer of tourism-related organizations across the country back then that seemed superfluous.

They had words such as “association” or “council in the name.  A few had “travel industry” even though it was already clear there is no such thing.

Travel is a sector of at least six distinct industries (plural) that have only one thing in common.  They share the traveling public or visitors as customers.

Some of these organizations were statewide and a handful were regional, as in “Pacific Northwest.”  While nearly all had only formed in the 1950s, they were all struggling for membership.

That meant pleading to community destination marketing organizations to keep them alive.

It caused me to examine and wonder how they all came to be obsolete in less than two decades, meaning they had lost appeal and relevance to their original constituency, a condition I found repeated in each of the three states in which I worked before retiring.

In fact, in retirement I still run across states that are trying to keep these organizations on life support nearly 50 years now after they should have been phased out.

Communities first formed Destination Marketing Organizations way back in 1896 along the routes of various railroads, inspired and adapted, in fact, from the destination marketing railroads had done for National Parks.

It was during the Progressive Era when cities and towns began to realize the importance of being culturally and scenically attractive.  This was also when the notion of leisure became more acceptable.

Yes, it may come as a surprise to many in tourism today but it owes its widespread emergence to liberals (OMG!)

These earliest destination marketing pioneers also understood from observing railroad marketing that the true future of travel was point to point, not serially from one community to the next.

From 1897-1915, most tourism was in the form of attending conventions and expositions, that is until an avid Pierce Arrow enthusiast, President Woodrow Wilson, changed things in 1916 by incentivizing the states to begin building or cobbling together roadways.

That’s when the paradigm shift to community destination marketing organizations took off as automobiles made tourism mainstream in the late 1920s and early 1930s, opening the way for many more towns and cities to benefit.

There was just one problem, though, well actually two.

As public roads were built or cobbled together into highways back then they were immediately blighted by billboards, often with one coming into view every 4 to 5 seconds even at the relatively slow 35-45 mile per hour speed limits back then.

Many governors such as O. Max Gardner in North Carolina commissioned surveys of roadsides, such as the 1930 report for his state at this link.

These scenic, or lack thereof, surveys led to billboard restrictions inspired by those that had been pioneered in Massachusetts under conservative Republican Governor Calvin Coolidge.

Coolidge’s restrictions had withstood numerous challenges in the courts during the 1920s resulting in a declaration that aesthetics alone are in the public interest and prohibiting billboards on highways in “The Bay State” of “unusual scenic beauty.”

All of this concern about scenic preservations along roadways brought tourism front and center because citizens and businesses speaking out against billboards across the country were often led by those owning tourism-related businesses such as in the 1930s editorial at this link.

But communities in North Carolina and many other states still lacked the capacity or interest to form tourism promotion organizations so states began to fill the void.

To provide an umbrella until their respective communities were ready to go after tourism, states such as North Carolina after 1935 added visitor attractions to their highway maps and formed what were called advertising divisions.

These state efforts would serve as a sort of filter until specific areas for visitation were identified.  They still basically serve that function today.

But this early tourism marketing was premature and doomed to backfire, unless states could become visitor-ready by first restoring the scenic character of roadsides and conducting in-depth inventories of things for visitors to see and do.

Fortunately, between 1937 and 1941, the federal government stepped in again, just as as World War II was set to unfold.

To be continued tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How Critical, Strategic and Historical Thinking are Linked

In 1892, twenty years before he would be elected President of the United States, Dr. Thomas Woodrow Wilson traveled by train from Princeton, where he was then a department chair, to a small conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

On his mind, in part, were the ongoing discussions that would soon lead to collapsing history, economics and political science or “politics,” as he preferred to call it, into one department.

He was also aware of troubling signs in the economy such as the unsustainable level of mortgaged farms and the low values of railroads shares compared to the bonded indebtedness they racked up, which drove the economy since the end of the Civil War.

But it would be several months before the 1893 financial panic would set in and his mind was primarily focused on the future of secondary education in America.

During his lifetime, compulsory education had gradually been adopted state by state, beginning with Massachusetts prior to the Civil War about the time he was born.

His parents moved deep into the South in embrace of the Confederacy, cutting him off from his anti-slavery roots in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  He started his higher education at Davidson College in North Carolina and proposed to his wife in Asheville.

So he was disturbed that the Southern states were laggards in embracing secondary education for all of their residents.  It would be another 26 years before Mississippi would become the last of the states then in existence to do so.

Tennessee in 1905 and North Carolina in 1907 were the first to do so, twenty years after my native Idaho.

But as Wilson made his way to Madison, there was still no standardized curriculum for secondary education, especially in high schools where they existed.

A Committee of Ten, actually nine different committees of ten experts each were organized around nine different subject areas they were to assess.

Professor Wilson’s group was to tackle history, civil government and political economy (economics.)

On his mind may have been that it been 108 years since another future President and one of the nation’s most prominent founders had laid out the importance of students learning history.

Thomas Jefferson had penned, in the only book he ever published, that “History, by apprising them (students) of the past, will enable them to judge the future,” not only making the case for history’s importance to liberty but also strategic thinking.

Wilson and his nine colleagues would likewise stress in their report that “History and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power we call judgment.”

Realizing that many students failed to see the value of memorizing dates and events, Wilson’s subcommittee recommended that history be not only taught as a subject several times a week for eight years but laced throughout other subjects such as English, Literature and Geography.

Their rationale was that the true value of learning history is learning “historical thinking,” such as the ability to decipher motives and see patterns important to “associational thinking,” or repurposing what is now understood to be the key to innovation.

Many people fail to move beyond dates and events to learn historical thinking because politicians have interfered and mandated a top-down approach out of concern that we won’t spend enough time learning national values.

But studies show this should be inverted.  More than two-thirds of Americans, including majorities of every ethnicity, view the importance of the past first through family background, a ratio of three to one over those that view U.S. history as most important.

Before there is any jump to conclusions, the percentage among non-Hispanic whites is nearly 70%.  Among African Americans and Native Americans, the area of next highest importance is their ethnic or racial group.

Then comes the history of the community in which we live.

In a twist of irony, the top down approach appears to disengage people, even the politicians who mandate it.

It would be interesting to know if the reason so many in my former field seem to lack any motivation or sensibility when it comes to guarding sense of place, let alone leveraging it as an appeal in favor of more superficial approaches, is due to a breakdown in historical thinking.

There are many studies, as well as examples through the years that have long ago confirmed that the inability to think historically is why so few are able to think strategically or make strategy.

A kindred spirit who is jumpstarting the Museum of Durham History first as an innovative pop-up pointed me recently to a book entitled, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts.

It was written by Dr. Sam Wineburg, a cognitive researcher at the University of Washington who then founded Stanford’s History Education Group.

He notes that “Situating ourselves in time is a basic human need.”

Those like many of my former peers who skip over history unless “useable” rather than as a way of thinking, give it, to paraphrase, the “fascination of the flea market.”

This, Wineburg explains, is because they think they more or less know what they are looking for when they skim through the past making it unlikely it will inform their outlook or cause them to do any rethink their strategy approach to a given community.

Instead, to continue to paraphrase Dr. Wineburg, the past becomes clay in their hands.  Instead of stretching their understanding and awareness, they merely contort it to fit the predetermined meanings they have already assigned to it.

But these observations among former peers in community destination marketing and many other officials and understanding how historical thinking works and how to reach it are very different things.

Fortunately, over the course of my now-concluded career, cognitive researchers have made huge strides in understanding the linkages between critical, strategic and historical thinking.

Using these findings, a collaboration with has helped the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill near where I live create new tools and approaches to teaching historical thinking and they aim first at what the vast majority of all Americans consider most important about the past, their own.

Durham schools are not yet involved but twenty-four years ago this spring, a low-tech approach to this was first piloted in Durham.  It started when Ann Baker, the executive director of the newly formed Durham Service Corps, a national pilot. contracted with the City to clean up Geer Cemetery.

But rapidly that summer, the project evolved into much more than community service.  As at-risk 18 to 24 year olds, or what experts now refer to as “disengaged,” went to work on the historic site, they began to ask questions:

“Who owns this cemetery? Who let it get so run down. Why is the cemetery all Black?  What famous people, if any, are buried here?  Why isn’t it a Durham landmark?”

Out of the project came a collaboration with literacy and education which published A Model For Curriculum Development in History And Social Studies entitled, Reclaiming Yesterday.

But instead, the farsighted 1991 program was soon put on a shelf to gather dust, followed shortly thereafter by the demise of the promising Service Corps., doomed by decision-makers who didn’t know what to do with such a nugget.

Tragic, but this is what invariably happens in a void of historical critical thinking, perpetually “reinventing the wheel” or worse, stagnation.

Fittingly to the former, Durham volunteers will turn out again on May 21st to clean up Geer Cemetery.  Many will be asking those same questions Corps. members asked in 1991.

Hopefully, it will energize historical thinking.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Another’s Inspirational Odyssey

A friend of mine still in her 20s living in Durham is a kindred spirit of sorts.

She has that blend of discoverer and deliverer that is the foundation for entrepreneurial spirits who are able to build and sustain innovative organizations.

She, too, sort of backed into her career and like I was at her age, curious about why she has so quickly been labeled an innovator.

Recently, I shared with her some of the kindred spirits who reached out to me when I arrived in Durham 26 years ago to build and grow what would be my fourth start-up in a long ago concluded career in a field different from hers.

I’ll share who they were in another essay some day, but like I am to her, they were old enough to be my grandparents.  I guess innovators can identify one another across generations.

But I wonder if one of my young friend’s early influences was her decision after college to bicycle with some friends on a route from coast to coast.

Let me explain why such a trip should also be a job requirement for anyone hoping to be involved in community destination marketing, as I was.

My friend and her companions biked east to west roughly following the old Bikecentennial route pioneered 40 years ago by a handful of other entrepreneurial innovators.

Back then, more than 4,000 cyclists to bike took part in portions of the route during the summer of 1976, 2,000 of whom completed the entire journey.

That was the year after I took the helm of my second startup, the first truly as the executive and a full-fledged community marketing organization.

By 1978, as I headed to Anchorage to complete another startup, the Bikecentennial had inspired AASHTO to recognize the existence of what is becoming a national system of bicycle routes.

It was an endeavor that would span the remainder of my career and beyond.  Today, 8,043 miles have been established involving 16 states with 40 states overall working on various routes.  Propelling it to its completion is still that original startup.

The transcontinental route my friend took is a slight variation of what is now U.S. Bicycle Route 76.

I was surprised to learn that the toughest mountainous segment was not the 68.6 mile, 3,341 ft. climb from Fort Collins over the 8,063.45 ft. pass on the southern route to Laramie.

Nor was it climbing over the Continental Divide in the Wind River Mountains or up along my native Tetons or then across the Bitterroots or up over the mile-high Lolo pass and through the canyons of the Clearwater.

It was just north of Durham in the southwestern Virginia portion of the Appalachians where, the Messersmiths, a line of my ancestors, had settled in the 1700s before heading west.

It was the hardest segment, not just because it was only a few days into their ride but, because the roads were so windy and the grades so much more difficult.

But the toughest portion of the whole journey was the relatively flat variation on the route they took down the Washington state side of the Columbia River Gorge before crossing over to Portland, due to riding against the wind blowing up the Gorge from the Pacific that makes it a haven for windsurfing.

When you discuss routes to the coast in Oregon, people usually refer to them in relationship to a series of colleges stretching down I-5.  Cannon is across from Portland State and Lewis & Clark College.

The beach at Lincoln City is across from Willamette University in Salem where I started law school.  Newport Beach is across from Oregon State in Corvallis.

UBR 76 ends at Florence Beach, across from the University of Oregon in Eugene but my friend’s more than 4,000 mile ride ended on Cannon Beach with its picturesque Haystack Rock.

These beaches are seared into my memory just as they were on 9/11 during a visit.  I first saw news about the initial plane crashing into the World Trade Center as I came in from watching the fog at Bandon.

It was eerie driving up the coast along each of these beaches on a bright, sunny day.  Each of these little towns almost seemed deserted including during an overnight at Cannon Beach.

Hearing about her journey across Kansas reminded me of the jestful lyrics to a song entitled Nickels Worth of Difference:

“There ain’t a nickels worth of difference in Kansas and Nebraska

A lot of wide open spaces, every now and then a tree

But I suppose if you were born and raised around there you might beg to differ

Yeah but I’m from Oklahoma, it looks pretty much the same to me”

While singer-songwriter Tom Skinner was playing off the ribbing that goes on between states, he puts his finger on how geographic stereotypes can predisposition some of us to miss distinctions.

They are clear as you drive cross country in a Jeep as my English Bulldog and I have along various routes at least eight different times since I retired.  I can only imagine how much more clear they are when viewed from a bicycle or walking.

Research shows that the vast majority of us are drawn to these distinctions when we travel while a much smaller share is drawn to places that look and feel indistinct or to replicas of where they live.

It is a bit like the difference that distinguishes the small number of executives who are “innovator-deliverers” from the vast majority who, as just “deliverers,” ultimately create stagnation.

In sense-of-place parlance, it is the difference that distinguishes “stayers” who safeguard the communities in which they live from “boomers,” otherwise reasonable people who lacking those sensibilities seem to trample or homogenize it instead.

I’m getting the itch for another cross-country trip with Mugs.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Nothing but the Patty and a Bun!

When my two sisters and I were growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, it was a treat when mom and dad would take us to a drive-in restaurant.

But we were on pins and needles when my middle sister would order, so much so, that we all began to harmonize with her as she ordered a burger.

“A hamburger, please, just plain.  No ketchup, no mustard, no mayonnaise, no lettuce, no onion, no tomato, no pickle, just a plain patty in a bun.”

Then for entertainment we would all wait to see what, regardless of the instructions, had invariable been added to her burger before breaking into laughter.  All but my sister, that is, although she gets a chuckle out of it today when we rib her.

Other than that, she wasn’t a picky eater and our parents applied only one overarching rule, even to their own preferences: eat what was cooked for you and eat it all.

But it turns out, according to a Harris poll taken this week, that Americans are less divided about whether picky eaters are “born” or “made,” than I would have thought.

Collectively, 71% believe picky eaters are “made” that way, not “born” that way as 29% believe. Of course, picky eaters themselves are more likely to cite nature (41%.)

Those who are not picky eaters themselves point to parenting, as do most parents with children in the house.  Telling, maybe, is that households with at least one picky adult are more likely to have a child who is picky.

I was surprised that only 26% of Americans self-identify as being a picky eater and only 28% don’t admit to knowing anyone who is a picky eater.

I became a picky eater as an adult, dancing my way around sugar and simple carbs which quickly turn to sugar, in favor of lots of vegetables.

A preference for small, “briny” olives as garnish for martinis, back before I turned to red wine only, was a source of great embarrassment to my daughter in her 20s.

I have gotten pickier with age, as have 15% of people my age.  Usually, it dwindles as you get older, but I must be an outlier.

Americans are tolerant of picky eaters until they are seven and then gradually less so until only 35% think so for adults.

When you’re younger or eating with a group, it apparently pays to keep it to yourself.  Picky eaters are less likely to get invited over for dinner by friends and single picky eaters have trouble getting a date.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

A Solution to Losing Three Yellowstones

I am always a bit puzzled whenever a newcomer goes out of his or her way to settle down in one of the many tree canopied neighborhoods in Durham, North Carolina, where I live and then promptly cuts down every tree on their lot.

I doubt this is ever strategic or they would realize that it immediately lowers their property value and that of their neighbors as well.  Not to mention that it defiles the neighborhood.

But I’ve seen it happen in each of the four neighborhoods I’ve inhabited here over the last 26 years.

I’ve listened to the reasons given: “I didn’t want to have to pick up the leaves;” “I didn’t want them to fall on my house during a storm;” “I didn’t want them to compete for water and sunlight with my lawn.”

I am sure the look on my face conveys, “Then why didn’t you choose to live somewhere else?”  There are plenty of places without trees, and thanks to the drilling of 50,000 oil and gas wells each year since 2000, there are more every day.

That’s the number drilled just in central North America according to a report published a little more than a week ago in the journal, Science, by researchers from the universities of Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana State and Oklahoma State.

Between 2000 and 2012, this has cleared an area the size of three Yellowstone Parks of all vegetation across eleven states and two Canadian provinces stretching from the Rockies to the heartland.

Even along the northern Pacific coast where 30-story high Redwoods, Sequoias and Douglas Firs are able to pull a third of their moisture from the air and the remainder up through their 30-foot wide trunks, it is difficult to fathom that it takes thousands of years for them to reach those dimensions.

But while vegetation, including forestland, in the central U.S. isn’t as dramatic and grows much more slowly, the issue isn’t just aesthetic.  The vegetative loss due to drilling robs this region of calculable ecosystem services.

These include not only carbon sequestered but productivity for growing food, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, forestland, landscape connectivity, wetlands and rangeland for growing livestock.

Ecosystem services are what make life possible on earth.

The scientists warn that “the loss of these services is likely long-lasting and potentially permanent, as recovery or reclamation of previously drilled land has not kept pace…”  But some solutions by public and private sector innovators may soon help.

Trees alone are more rare than we think.

In the U.S., there are now 620 native trees while there are thousands and thousands in other countries and 60,000 in all according to a book entitled, The Tree – A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live and Why They Matter.

We are reminded by by its author, biologist and writer Colin Tudge, that each lineage of trees began with a single tree, e.g. the first ever pine etc.

In 1977, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Forest Development Act which established a “cost sharing program” to help landowners “increase the privately-owned forests of the state.”

Nearly all of the participants are citizens who own small forests; on average up to a few dozen acres.  There are about 469,000 “family” forestland owners in North Carolina who steward 61% of the state’s forestland.

The most commonly cited reason for ownership of these small family forests are beauty/scenery, to pass land on to heirs and nature protection.

Places such as Durham, where officials are considering a long overdue plan involving both urban reforestation and afforestation would be well advised to look at adapting the state plan as a way to help along those who are reticent because they can’t see how it can be done on public lands alone.

“The world cuts or burns down about 26 billion trees a year.  It replants about 15 billion.”  So the net 11 billion trees lost each year would be enough to carbon sequestration to offset the electricity-related emissions of China in 22 years and the U.S. in 13 years.

This is ironically the same span it has taken drilling to agent-orange the equivalent of three Yellowstones.

Run by a veteran NASA engineer, a company called BioCarbon Engineering is now planning to use drones to seed a billion trees a year by firing pre-germinated pods into the ground that have been covered in nutritious hydrogel.

The system can plant 36,000 trees a day using precision mapping and also conduct follow up monitoring and ecosystem assessment, all via specially adapted drones.

To reforest what it loses each year to development and disease, Durham would only need six hours, probably best conducted after midnight after mapping parks, roadsides, stream banks, reservoirs and school grounds along with participating businesses, family-owned forests and residences.

BioCarbon Engineering’s drones may also be a way the central U.S. can hope to recover some of the vegetation it has lost to drilling over the past decade as well as reforest lands that were cleared decades ago but not longer needed for agriculture.

I suspect that BioCarbon would be recompensed at least in part by the exchange of carbon offset credits or be willing to sell the drones and train operators.

I feel better now (smile.)