Writer William Ward is credited with saying, “The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjusts the sails."
I had a conversation recently with a good friend lamenting the lack of vision and critical thinking in his small community. He wasn’t telling me anything that I and many others didn’t already know. He was just frustrated and had to vent.
Unfortunately, that conversation is common and true in many communities across our great country. It begs the question: Which is more important — vision or critical thinking? Without vision, there isn’t much need for critical thinking. It takes no critical thinking to continue doing the same things in the same ways.
We humans are largely programmed to take the path of least resistance. We do this even when we suspect that path doesn’t end well. In the stock market and media world, that would be referred to as the herd mentality. I would also offer that the herd is rarely correct and has a poor track record in financial and business environments. Let’s add community transformation and revitalization to the category of bad endings with a herd mentality.
Why add community transformation and revitalization? The current system is stacked against small communities in today’s world. Government by nature and design is built to move slowly. That is a great strength during normal or routine times. After all, it keeps communities from making hasty decisions. On the other hand, when unsettling economic times hit, the ability to move rapidly might be the difference between success and failure.
Additionally, the entire national economic system is stacked against smaller communities and their redevelopment as well. The entire economic system is geared to slowly drain resources from smaller communities and redistribute those resources to larger cities and companies. While some of it is certainly by design, much of it is unintentional. When we spend money at any business that is not locally owned, those dollars are sent to wherever that corporation's headquarters might be and are therefore gone from your community forever. I should add, this isn’t always bad. Many services and products can only be acquired this way. However, when the dollars leaving the community through big boxes, chains and out-of-town companies exceed those staying in the community, the trend line and your future outlook are not very bright.
Many traditional leaders and influencers tend to focus on issues that do nothing to solve the real problem facing communities, which is the need for rapid change led by vision. Rapid change is the only way out for communities stuck in a rut to effectively overcome small and hesitant minds, complacency and tradition. Rapid change tends to rock the foundation and overwhelm the old guard quickly.
Let’s be clear: Rapid change is rarely perfect at first. Some things can go wrong. Don’t allow small and mediocre minds to make mountains out of molehills. Point out things that go different than the plan, correct them quickly, but always focus on the vision and the end game. Don’t get sucked in by small minds that dwell on what amounts to small things in the grand picture. That mentality has destroyed and will continue to destroy many communities.
And always remember the progression of nearly any transformational task. First you work hard and become good. Then you refine and make that great. After that, you continue to strive for perfection, but don’t get obsessed with perfection, as the perfect is the enemy of great and is rarely achieved. I will settle for greatness any day.
John Newby is author of the “Building Main Street, Not Wall Street” column dedicated to helping communities combine synergies with local media companies allowing them to not just survive but to thrive. His email is john@360MediaAlliance.net.