"The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow." – Jim Hightower
I have often pondered the question, what makes a community successful at transforming themselves versus those many communities that are insistent upon snatching defeat from the jaws of victory? I have concluded that successful communities succeeding in transforming themselves are those striking while the iron is hot and figuring out how to knock over slow moving traditional mindsets and barriers.
Growing up playing sports, I learned long ago the absolute value of momentum in sports. More importantly, I learned that capitalizing on momentum when it appears can seal the deal and capture the win. I believe it is absolutely the same for communities. When something good happens in a winning community, you have momentum, they then immediately go to work and try to figure out how to double down on those positive happenings and that momentum. They don't enact policies and programs that slow any positive momentum, they enact, and force policies and programs that speed things up even faster. That is not rocket science; it is basic human logic and knowledge. To use an adage, you strike while the iron is hot.
It is no secret the "herd" mentality, for better or for worse, is alive and well in most communities. Winning communities take the positive momentum coupled with the understanding of how the herd mentality works and uses it to their advantage.
I was fortunate enough to witness this firsthand in a community I lived in not long ago. The forward-thinking mayor decided to streetscape a one-block section of their downtown one year. They liked what they did and decided to expand it the following year and add the second block. The third year, they added the third block, but something unexpected happened. Several new businesses started springing up in what were empty storefronts on those few regenerated blocks. The momentum that the city created had now turned into a 'positive' herd mentality movement. Private money was coming off the sidelines and beginning to transform their entire downtown.
But that was only the first step to winning, the city had a choice at this point. They could stop the streetscaping thinking that private money was now in the game and let that carry the transformation forward, or they could double down and increase the momentum that was occurring. Back to a sports analogy, they saw that momentum was a powerful force and they didn't leave any room for that momentum to subside – the wanted to eliminate any potential for the losing herd mentality to enter the picture. They plowed ahead, and in the past decade, they have transformed their downtown, which in turn has transformed and impacted the entire community.
That is how a winning community works. How might a losing community look? Losing communities bounce from plans and ideas to the next set of plans and ideas. They have bookcases full of expensive studies with no real action to show for it. Instead of moving fast, they delay funding and action too often. They prioritize projects by who is in line first, not what makes the fastest and most immediate impact. They have many false starts that are cut-off before they really begin for a slew of different and lame reasons. In short, they lack the vision or the fortitude to move quickly and decisively.
Take courage however, those with a losing herd mentality can always right the ship. The city mentioned above used as a winning example above might have qualified as a losing community prior to the foresight of the mayor. They had an entrenched losing herd outlook; they had a city council afraid to act feeling that no action was better than a potential mistake. They had as many bookcases full of studies as the next town and they lacked real vision. Yet, despite it all, a few individuals wouldn't accept failure. While many told them there was no "i" in team, they knew there was an "i" in win and win they did.
John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business and media consultant, and speaker. He authors "Building Main Street, not Wall Street," a column appearing in 50 communities. The founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy, and combining synergies with local media to become more vibrant and competitive. His email is: [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.