Imagine your child comes home with the following report card:
As a parent, which grade would you say deserves the most attention from you? Gallup research found out that 77% of parents say that they would focus on the F. Now, the question didn’t say that if you select one, you completely forget about the others, it simply gives the grades and asks that if you had to choose a grade that deserves the most time and attention, which one would you invest the most into? The myth here is that we believe that we will grow the most in the areas we are the weakest in. Marcus Buckingham explains the reality, ” The truth that should replace the myth is that you are going to grow the most, you are going to develop the most in the areas where you already know the most. You grow the most in the areas of your strengths. You can learn in the areas of weakness, but the amount you learn is achieved with great difficulty and you don’t get much bang for your buck.”
Now, the reason I am bringing this up is because I believe that we have the same fundamental mistake in the ways in which we approach rebuilding our communities/ecosystems. Why is it that we believe that the best way to revitalize our communities is to heavily invest in the areas in which we are the weakest at? Our first reaction towards economic success is to dissect exactly all the problem areas we have and heavily invest in them. I am not saying that we shouldn’t invest in those areas of poor or substandard mark to make our communities well rounded because you absolutely can’t/shouldn’t ignore them, (i.e. if you have a poor education system, etc.) I am hypothesizing that like personal growth, the areas in which communities will grow the most in are the areas in which the ecosystem already has some natural strengths. As a aspiring community leader I am just trying to find the ways that we can make the largest leaps for our people in the most efficient and impacting way. Once we can truly excel in one area, the success will have a greater trickle down affect into all areas of the community.
Last weekend I was in Jackson, Mississippi and this was actually Mississippi’s first Startup Weekend (3 out of my past 4 events have been in places where this was the first type of tech startup event their communities have ever hosted). Mississippi doesn’t have a big technology hub and lead organizer Tasha Bibb says that the workforce is mostly dominated by “Blue-Collar” work with large companies in the space of agriculture. The education system isn’t very strong in the area (K-University) and with Mississippi having some of the highest poverty rates in the nation, it leads to a handful of talented students falling through the cracks. Only 19.5% of students in the state of Mississippi earn a university level degree or higher. Something needs to be done to help revitalize this community but how can we take the biggest strides in the most efficient way and impacting way? My hypothesis says play to our strengths and innovate in a more focused way. Not every community needs to innovate in social web 2.0 startups, let Silicon Valley handle that. If your community has expertise in agriculture, innovate and become the Silicon Valley of innovative agriculture startups. If Jacksonville, Florida has expertise in Healthcare, be the Silicon Valley of the innovative healthcare startups and so much more will come out of it for your community. In new startup communities it all starts with inspiration because the majority of people who live in these areas for whatever cultural reason don’t believe it can be done locally. Community leaders need to prove that startups can be built locally and then you need to inspire a new mindset of local entrepreneurs, the best way to attack these major mindset problems is to start focused on your ecosystems natural strengths.
Whether you are looking to bring Startup Weekend to your city or you are a community leader in a area that aspires to build a hub for innovation, I would advise to highly analyze these areas of your community first and think about focusing on a strength-based community approach:
1. Which companies produce the most jobs locally?
In Seattle we have Microsoft and Amazon that supply a far majority of jobs in the area, because of that we have a strong pool of technology professionals who have years of experience within that space. What are those type of companies in your area? Professional experience leads to expertise and being able to cater to those strengths will help innovation growth.
2. What are your local universities strongest programs?
The universities are what are training the next generation. Dissecting the strengths within your universities may help guide what type of innovation you as a community leader may be able to make the largest strides in.
3. Who are your communities best mentors and what do they specialize in?
Mentors may be one of the most important elements towards a thriving community. There are a lot of successful business professionals in this world but that doesn’t mean they are amazing mentors who can really help shape game-changing startups. For example, if you want to bring Startup Weekend to help produce Web 2.0 type of startups and have judges and mentors who don’t know what twitter or foursquare are, you may be bringing the wrong type of advice to the table. Usually in communities there are strong mentors who specialize in categories where they have made tremendous strides globally (green tech, healthcare, gaming, etc.). Possibly narrowing your focus of innovation to cater to those specialties will lead to higher quality interactions within your community in whatever programs your create.
4. What are the supporting community events/programs in your area?
If there are already current infrastructures of events/programs set up in your community that are showing great popularity, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Let the already created and successful programs be your community research in what your community actually cares about and then add layers of great innovation on top of them. Try to bridge the gaps rather than build competing programs in your community.
5. What are the main community influencers in your area?
Whether the influencers are media people who have a strong voice, non-profits, corporations, angel groups or events, find out who or what has the largest impact on your community. Figure out why they are so influential (communities strong interest, etc.) and find ways to incorporate their voice into sparking your innovation movement. For example, if you want to bring Startup Weekend to your city, find a strong influencer and have them be on the judging panel and let them share their influential voice about your event. If a local non-profit has a strong following already, partner with them and create ways to help innovate on the progress they are already making. Let the influencers do what they do best, have a strong voice, and you worry about designing the strongest ecosystem.
6. What are the new trends in your community?
After you know your influencers, figure out what trends they are sparking. This will allow you to create innovative programs people have strong interest in from the get go. Let these trends be a strong indicator of a potential strength your community could continue to add layers upon towards creating something bigger than what it currently is.
Innovation is defined (by wikipedia) as: the creation of better or more effective products, processes, services, technologies, or ideas that are accepted by markets, governments, and society. This doesn’t refine innovation to solely software, let alone web 2.0 software. Remember, we grow the most in areas in which we have some natural strength. It is time our communities stop investing the majority of our resources towards taking our weaknesses and making them not as shitty. It is time we look at our strengths and make them remarkable. The substantial growth in a focused vertical will positively impact all areas ten folds.