“Where Everyone Knows Your Name”

During the mid ’90s I lived in Marin County, California; specifically Tiburon. Tiburon is small community of about 7,000 nestled around the Richardson and San Francisco Bays just north of San Francisco proper. It has a small town feel in an idyllic setting, yet has access to all the big city trimmings. The businesses I patronized were all locally owned, and mostly felt like family. While I rarely socialized with them outside of doing business, they all knew me, knew about me and knew my daughter Alex.

The florist down the street from our apartment became so used to my weekly “stock up the vases” trips that my phone number was on the bulletin board behind the cash register. “Call Clay as soon as the Parrot Tulips come in.” I must have been at the IGA grocery store every day. In fact I often just stopped in just to talk … even when I didn’t even need anything. If there was anything I wanted they didn’t carry, it took them only a couple of days – and then they did. I even brought in my knives to get sharpened by Tom the butcher. I could have done it myself. But if I did – I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to talk Minnesota Vikings football with Tom (another transplanted Minnesotan). In the days leading up to the draft I had the sharpest knives in Marin County.

And I remember the calendar I’d get from the Daily Grill detailing the special events they had coming for the month. They knew my favorite dish, wild boar. They’d even call (yes, on the phone) when they were getting a special shipment in … so I could make room on my schedule (which I always did).

They knew me. And because of it … I was a great customer.

Tiburon apartment view cropped

“Where Everyone Knows Your Name”

In the ’80s one of the top shows on television was the sitcom, “Cheers.” It made household names of Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, Shelly Long and Kelsey Grammar. But maybe the biggest star of the show was it’s theme song, “Where Everyone Knows Your Name” by Gary Portnoy. Cheers wasn’t a bar, it was a 2nd home (or for some a 1st). And for a half an hour every week, it was a vicarious 2nd home for its audience. Everywhere I shopped in Tiburon was kind of like this. My community was really my home. And with working out of my home, the businesses I frequented were often at the center it.

Creating customer relationships like this are the holy grail of any merchant. But they can be for the customer as well. After all – “They know your name.” I’m a locavore through and through. And not just concerning food. I avoid national chains and even franchises like the plague. I took it to the next level in trip I made from my sister’s place in Nebraska to my home in Los Angeles I described in the previous post,‘Don’t fall for Starbuck.’ Even inanimate objects such  interstate highways weren’t immune from my disdain of national entities.

In all these cases, I was the one who extended my hand first in the relationship. I got to know them. And I made it known when I moved to town, or they opened shop, I was interested in doing business with them. All they had to do is not screw up too bad. And even then – there were always 2nd and 3rd chances to be given. As long as they cared about me and tried, they were always given the benefit of the doubt. After all, they were my friends. Needless to say this was before the days of Yelp and what it seems like the tenuous relationship between customer and merchant, one always on the verge of blowing up into a toxic internet feud (a feud no one wins).

That was twenty years ago though and pretty much all shopping options in Tiburon were locally owned. Even getting to a big box store in Marin County was a chore. Today this is not the case. Chains and big box stores are everywhere, and customers like me who shun them are few and far in between. The competitive landscape for locally owned businesses is much more treacherous. And that’s not going to change anytime soon.

But what can change however is the metaphorical vehicle they have to navigate this landscape. What they need are the tools to create these friendships with customers that will turn occasional visitors into rabid evangelists like I was. They need to turn their business into a place “Where Everyone Knows Your Name.” And with social media and the plethora of communication mediums at their disposal, this can be easier than twenty years ago … but also harder due to the noise that has to be cut through.

Managing to not fall prey to the hubris of 21st century advertising involves making your message relevant. During the mid 2000s at the end of my tenure as a recruiter, I became intricately involved in database one-to-one marketing. Back in 2005, this meant being able to customize a direct mail piece to the specifics of recipient. Whether it was variable text or even imagery, marketing messages could be made much more relevant. And as a result, they became much more effective, often increasing response rates a ten fold.

Of course, these days just mentioning direct mail conjures up visions of marketing Luddites. With everything and everyone being turned into an app, a cookie, a like, a share or a favorite; print is an afterthought. Regardless of the medium though, it’s still the same. They’re all forms of communication, and the communication has to be relevant (both in terms of content and timing) to be effective. And the most powerful form of relevance is a response to an event.

By events I don’t mean just holidays or your birthday. A recent visit your local bookstore, could be considered an event. Or even test driving a new car you didn’t buy. They are events, and they’re all opportunities for a merchant and you, the patron, to have a constructive communication after the fact … a communication that builds a relationship.

These communications show you, the customer, that the merchant recognizes you were there. It shows that you are an individual – not just another number in their standardized mailing list … or not just another ‘like.’ It’s a communication that builds a synaptic relationship, a memory. And these memories are the golden opportunities a business has to solidify a customer relationship. 

A local business could notify you when you hadn’t been around in while. And in trying to get you back, they could make you special offer. Or imagine if you were kept abreast when they received a good deal on something that you had a history of purchasing (like me and the wild boar). Or even better yet imagine your local ‘hangout’ considered you a VIP and had special events and discounts exclusively for you and your other fellow VIPs.

 The options for post-event communications and ‘making you feel special’ are endless. It just needs to be in the mind set of the merchant. They have to want to take their relationship with you to one that’s not the ‘same as usual’ … but rather one aimed at turning you into an evangelist. Imagine the following examples being part of the rapport you and your local business engaged in. And these are just a few of the plethora limited only by your imagination:

  • “WOW, you must have been hungry” (Follow-up after large purchase): Big spenders like to be loved. Customers who spend over a certain amount of money in one sitting are sent out a thank you note with an offer to buy more.
  • “Haven’t seen you in a while” (Customer re-activation): It’s hard enough to get you as a customer, so the last thing they want to do is let you fade away.  Imagine being  automatically contacted by merchant a customer who hasn’t patronized you lately (within a pre-determined time frame) with a re-activating “come back in” offer.
  • “We got a great deal” (Bulk buy pass along): The key to business success is finding good deals and turning them over quickly.  Enable your company to jump on these deals by using “We got a great deal” to notify customers who can take advantage of your good fortune with  “pass along” savings.
  • “Join  us  on our VIP night” (VIP Club program): Imagine being VIP at your favorite watering hole.  “Join us on our VIP night” lets you create exactly that for your customers. You can create a special VIP night or event exclusive only to your top patrons.
  • “We want your suggestion” (Virtual suggestion box): Being in the middle of the trees often prevents you from seeing the entire forest – a forest only your customers may be able to see. “We want your Suggestions” provides your business with an online virtual suggestion box for your customers. Making them feel part of your business – will only strengthen your bond.

Now let’s take the relationship one step further. Imagine if the focus wasn’t just to get you to ‘buy more stuff,’ but to enlist your assistance in the building of your community. What if they asked you to help … to rise above just being a customer, and become a community collaborator.

Whether companies believe it or not, their customers are interested in a lot more than just their products and whatever sales they’re blasting over the airwaves. The more a company can transcend this attitude, the stronger the relationship they will be able to build with their customer base. The more points of substantive connection that are made … the stronger the relationship.

A merchant’s goal should be to expand the breadth of commonalities it shares with its customers … reaching past the doors of its store to the community it co-inhabits.

In previous posts I’ve elaborated on the Middle Ring phenomenon as the basis for building community through neighborhood connections. At the physical center of the Middle Ring is the Front Porch. A Front Porch is the metaphorical, or sometimes literal, meeting place where neighbors gather and discuss the issues of their community. Your neighborhood’s Front Porch can be anywhere or anything. It can be the local pub down the street or the coffee house you get your morning the expresso from. It can be Bill’s garage where everyone hangs out to watch Sunday football games. It can even be your kitchen table. What happens on the the Front Porch is what matters … not what is looks like or where it is.

Why can’t your community’s local businesses be your Front Porch? Why can’t your small business be where community volunteer and wellbeing efforts are planned and executed? Why can’t it be the nexus of how your community becomes better.

Just imagine efforts like these that could grow from local business turned Front Porch in your neighborhood:

  • “Pretty Picture on the Wall” Imagine if your community’s unknown artists suddenly had a had a venue for their work. And what if it was a venue, say a local restaurant, could generate income for them.  This initiative could connect a community’s artists, whether they be a talented youngster or a homeless person living on the streets – with a merchant that has wall space to fill. These ad hoc galleries give exposure, generates artist revenue and provide the merchant a source of local art to show off in their establishment.
  • “I’m not Alone Anymore” Being cut off from society is a killer for the elderly and shut-ins, literally. The less fortunate often have no family or friends around to make sure their basic needs are taken care of. They don’t have anyone to make sure they eat properly or take them to the doctor or get their medications. And that’s not even saying anything about mental support. Their likely future involves depression … or even premature death at home or worse yet, in an “old folks home.” Imagine if your community’s local businesses could step in by organizing their employees and customers to be the connectivity to the community that these people once had by not only helping with their physical needs but also providing emotional support. Even if just means a weekly visit for a cup of coffee … these people will not be forgotten for long.
  • “Help Me … I’m Dirty” Do ever you walk past that vacant lot and wonder what could be … what could be if someone did something. If someone just cleaned it up, that would be a start. But then, who knows what we could make it. And maybe if this vacant lot became something – something beautiful, then maybe it would catch on. Just like a team is only as strong as its weakest link, your community’s physical viability is only as strong as it’s most dilapidated property or park. And the momentum works in both ways, letting it go … revitalizing it. And what if instead of battling city hall to act, your community’s local businesses stepped in a provided the conduit for these actions through its employees and customers.
  • “Making the Transition” We feel that once high school is over, our children will be ready to tackle their futures on their own. If we don’t send them out into a world with unprecedented unemployment, then it’s off to college to accumulate tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Very seldom is high school set up to provide needed transitional advice. Imagine if it was your community’s local businesses who provided this ‘hand up’ by enlisted its itself or even its customers on-the-job training experiences or apprenticeships along with career guidance. These experiences will give recent graduates or even current high school students the opportunity to see the “ins and outs” of a profession before they jump in with both feet. And who knows, it may even get the your community’s ‘best and brightest’ to stay in town, rather than pack up and venture to point far away … too far to be of any future benefit for your city.

These examples of a “Where Everyone Knows Your Name” philosophy of doing business isn’t ‘friending’ a brand on Facebook. It’s not ‘checking in’ on Foursquare. It’s creating a genuine human relationship between a customer and a merchant, relationships that go much deeper than just “buying stuff.” This is synergy where you are helping each other – and building your community together. This is taking ’cause marketing’ to a different level. The traditional customer/merchant exchange of ‘money for goods’ is not only transcended … it’s been relegated to a by-product, an assumed afterthought.

What if your life was filled with these type of relationships, relationships that complimented those of your Middle Ring neighbors. Imagine if your life was an ecosystem where every interaction you have could enhance your life and not just take up time. Wouldn’t you want to live like this … where the line between customers and providers is blurred – where your goals are all the same. Isn’t it time to consider yourself a community collaborator – creating a world that works everyone.

You would be creating a community wherever you went, “They would know your name.”

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

“Buy Local” … or maybe not!

“Every time I step out on stage, I know the people in the audience work hard to afford a ticket to one of my shows … so I have to prepare, work as hard as I can and do my best to make sure they get their money’s worth” ~ Alicia Moore (aka P!NK)

The chorus of “Buy Local” has become the new “Buy American.” This is especially the case with all the corporate shenanigans going on. The executives of Monsanto, Wells Fargo and B of A should be in jail. Wal-Mart is doing its best to decimate local economies, forcing themselves into communities by all nefarious means possible. And twenty-nine hours a week is the new full-time, since it falls under the federally mandated health insurance requirements.

The only way us ‘common folk’ can fight back is to buy local. And it makes sense. Only 15% of the revenue from a big box store like Wal-Mart or Target finds its way into the local economy – while the rest goes to national or international suppliers, stockholders and C-level management to points unknown. Compare that to 45+% that stays in town with a locally owned store. And these statistics are even more dramatic in the restaurant industry where 79% of local restaurant revenue stays local, compared to only 30% from the national chains.Hard to argue with those numbers. You buy locally and you help your neighbors and probably yourself as well. You don’t … you won’t.

Red Lodge main Street

“I’ll take the first step … but please help me out!” 

While buying locally may cost a few more cents on the dollar, I would hope still most us would be willing to help out our community. And by patronizing local business, in theory you should get better service. After all, your neighbors know you or at least should feel a ‘kinship’ with you.

Technically local businesses should have an unfair advantage. In addition to their knowledge of their customers, they can adjust to local market conditions. In the time it takes for a big box store to even get market intelligence – their local competition is out the gate with a new set of products and a promotion to match. Combine that with their superior customer service – any premium put on big box price should be discounted.

In theory, this should be the case. But such is not necessarily the way it is.

Recently, I’ve been helping out my parents in Montana. As with most people in their 70’s and 80’s, health-care is a constant issue. And central to elderly health-care is prescription drugs and their relationship with their pharmacy. Such is the case with my parents and their primary pharmacy – which is locally owned.

My parents have been very good customer of (a pharmacy that will remain nameless) for twenty plus years. You would think that sort of relationship would warrant at the very least, good service. Rather than go into copious detail, lets just say … the help is rude, seldom is a prescription sent out when promised, and they charge extra just to put something in the mail. And don’t you dare bring up the idea of a less expensive alternative drug. Who am I to say anything! I don’t have the letters after my name.

Yet this business will be the first to complain about the invasion of Walgreens and CVS.

“We can’t compete because of the bulk buying advantage the giants have. We can’t compete against their advertising budgets.”

No mention is made of the fact that (a pharmacy that will remain nameless) has been a member of the Billings community for decades, serving generations of customers. Nor is there any mention of the advantage they have because of their key location, right on the ground floor of the main hospital in the city – a location they procured shortly after the hospital was built.

Their negative attitude is evident with their employees also. It’s as if they’re just waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop” And the way they act, when that shoes drops … they act like they’ll be waiting in line for a bed at the homeless shelter on Montana Ave. They don’t say it, but it’s almost like it’s a requirement to shop there if you live in Billings. After all, they’re a local business – and aren’t you supposed to support local business!

And unfortunately, this is just one of the examples I regularly encounter here with local businesses. Thank god for my favorite pet store to help balance things out.

Here’s my conundrum. I am adamantly in favor of buying local. Personally I think by bringing the power back to Main Street, we can retake our country and our lives from the unscrupulous corporate hacks that have hijacked it. This extra injection of money and entrepreneurial opportunity into our communities can go to help our children’s schools, our elderly, our less fortunate … and on top of it, our own wallets.

Can man crop

Be a partner in your community’s local businesses

I’m willing to you give the first chance if you’re local, and I may even give you a second chance if you screw up. But you have to show me you want my business and you care about me. If you don’t already know me – take the time to get to know me. Then call me by my name – and remember what I buy (or at least if I buy it a lot). If you get a deal on something you know I like, let me know and let me share in your savings. Show me you’re part of the community and want to make it better … like the chain stores can’t. Make me part of your extended family – and I’ll do the same and I’ll be loyal. It won’t matter if I have to pay a couple of dollars more – you’re family.

But to justify those couple of dollars, you have to show it and meet me half way. I don’t want a “woe is me” attitude from your employees – or you. I want you to understand that having a business in my community, in my neighborhood – is not a right, it’s a privilege … a privilege that can be taken away by me, and by my neighbors.

If you’re cool with all this – then you’ll have a great customer. You’ll have great customer that’s loyal and will refer their friends to you.

My conditions may seem a bit harsh, but they have to be. Owning a business isn’t supposed to be easy. But at least you know where I stand and you can act accordingly. And if I see something I think you can improve on, don’t be defensive … because I’m going to tell you. Most people just defect and run to the big box stores without any notice. I’m laying my cards on the table. It’s not only in your best interest to get better … it’s in mine and our community’s. We want you to stay in business.

My goal here is to increase the communication between the merchant and the customer. This communication will result in a feedback loop that will make the small business compete better against the Wall Street chains. Be an informal consultant for your community’s local businesses. Tell them what they did right … and tell them what they’ve done wrong (but do it tactfully). Your community’s small businesses are not your adversaries. On the contrary, they’re your teammate in your effort to strengthen the community you all live in. The enemy are the big box stores and chain stores that “grab the money and run” to a place far, far away.

Be your local business’s eyes and ears in the community. If they don’t provide something you have to go to a chain for … tell them. Be a partner in their business. Help create the symbiotic relationships and infrastructure that will strengthen your community … not weaken it. It’s through commerce with these local merchant that a community takes on its unique identity and nurtures the ‘space’ that acts as a conduit to rebuilding the ‘Middle Ring’ of neighborhood relationships necessary for a community to function at its fullest.

I wish just that being local was enough for me to be a customer “forever after.”  But like any relationship, it takes work and work … and then some more work.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey, “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

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You can find on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

Cheating the Grim Reaper of ‘Small Town U.S.A.’

Four years ago, I first addressed the issue of the plight of Small Town U.S.A. After living five years now in a small town with a population of 500 which is essentially a bedroom community for Billings, Montana (pop. 100,000), I believe the issue is even more relevant today than then. And even though I labeled this post ‘Small Town U.S.A.’ … it could be anywhere, here or abroad. 

Back in 2011 I saw an MSNBC piece on an independent movie made about the small town of Medora, Indiana. Medora has a population of about 600 and is known, notoriously, for its high school basketball team, and its 2009 twenty-two game losing streak and their pursuit to win just one game. But there’s much more about the film than just basketball – and there’s also much more about Medora.

Like many, many other small towns around America, they’re struggling for their survival. In Medora’s case, they’re reeling from losing a plastics factory, the town’s main employer … as well as staring at the possibility of even losing their identity, their high school. Below is the interview on MSNBC with directors Andrew Cohn and Davey Rothbart.

A major tenet of this blog, “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” is community empowerment and self-sufficiency. I’ve been lamenting ad nauseam that our government will not be there for us, and nor will corporate America. In fact, on the contrary, corporate American is doing it’s best to destroy Small Town U.S.A. (whether intentional or not). It’s up to us to fight back and save our communities, and save our neighborhoods. Because if we don’t – nobody will.

But it’s not that easy. What if the people can’t help their community, can’t be there to help their neighbors … and maybe can’t even help themselves. What if the people of your community don’t have the ‘skill set’ to make it in this new world that is evolving faster than most can keep up. Relying on what worked in the past often doesn’t get it done in the present – let alone in the future. Make no mistake, experience is a valuable component of civic and personal sustainability (and if sustainability isn’t a term you regularly use then you have a lot of work to do). But the trick is converting that experience into action that is applicable today and in the future.

Door

Your Small Town needs to develop a ‘Survival Skill Set’

So here is my idea on how convert this experience your community possesses into the proper ‘skill set’  for “Small Town U.S.A.” – circa 2015 and beyond. Actually, it’s more a set of attitudes. Because without the proper frame of mind – all the training money can buy, will be all for not.

  • Embrace change and be flexible: Expect your life to be turned upside down tomorrow when you wake up. Strike the word security from your vocabulary. The only security you’ll have in 2015 and beyond, especially in a small town, is yourself and ability to navigate the inevitable changes that will “slap you in the face” when you least expect it. Don’t be pre-occupied with trying to hang on to “the way things were.” The only constant in life is change … so deal with it!
  • Embrace technology: Technology and specifically the internet is everywhere, and embedded in everything. Technology will buffer you from the ups and down of a local economy. Become adept at social media. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) will widen your reach of contacts and ultimately the support when you need it most. The internet will also enable you to create income being a “location independent” micro-entrepreneur.
  • Embrace your community: Your community, your neighbors, are your primary safety net and support structure. Don’t be a recluse. Lend a hand whenever you can. Be the “go-to person” in your town. Be the ‘help leader’ that people will follow. Be the one that is the first one to rally the people to make things better for all. A positive, action oriented attitude is contagious.
  • Embrace the youth: Make your town the one that welcomes young people. For it’s the young people who will create the new opportunities, the opportunities that will keep your town’s death at bay. Don’t be part of a town that only tries to “hang to yesterday,” and tries to prevent any intrusion into this allegedly idyllic time … the time that is no longer and never will be. Business owners need to part of the solution also. Mentoring and internship programs do wonders keeping your young talent at home, rather than having them leave town for better opportunities.
  • Focus on businesses that serve out-of-town customers: If you’re an entrepreneur, stay away from ventures that serve only your fellow community members, especially if the services you offer already exist locally. Don’t depend on revenue only generated from your community. Be responsible for bringing needed money into the community rather than cannibalize the existing businesses of your neighbors.
  • Foster cross-generational cooperation: I already mentioned a small town needs to ’embrace its youth,’ but that doesn’t mean neglecting the rest of its residents – especially the elderly. It’s the mix of the young and the old that create a town’s personality, one that’s unique. Make it a point to identify areas of generational cross-pollination. Retirees can mentor high schoolers, while the younger ones can assist the older generations get up to speed on technology. Turn schools into community hubs for all ages. Silos are for grain and corn, not for a society or your community.
  • Support your local businesses: I could have labeled this “Don’t buy into the Snake Oil of Wall Street.” 40% to 50% percent of each dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community. And only 15% percent does with a large corporate entity, like Walmart, Target or Home Depot. What does that tell you! That’s 30% that could go to local parks or local business owners that would in turn spend it at other local business owners and on and on.
  • Embrace your Weirdos: It’s the creative people, the out-of-the-box thinkers … who are ones who push the boundaries and shatter the status quo. They tremble at the words – normal, or conventional. These are the “Weirdos.” The ones who don’t conform, the Albert Einsteins, the Steve Jobs, the Truman Capotes and the Orson Wells. They scare the normal people. When this country has made strides and moved ahead – it’s the “Weirdos” that blazed the way for others to follow … often to much prejudice and ostracism. But we forget that those proverbial roads we often take for granted – were the result of the chances they took … and not us.

In the end, all the above suggestions are about change, or at least being open to it. People generally want things to be the same or the way they were. It’s this attitude that decimates a community. “Small Town U.S.A.” doesn’t need to be a thing of the past, only a distant memory.

It just needs only to change … to change its attitudes.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

Why ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ Matters

Over the course of my recent blog series, “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” one of the main tenets I’ve stressed has been that every member of a community, no matter who they are, has value and should be recognized for their unique gifts. Everyone adds to the fabric of your community.

In the piece, ‘Empathy and ‘Shared Experience,’ I stressed importance of individual relationships and empathy in building the foundation of a community. In ‘Cross-pollination and Creating Your Own Personal Renaissance I suggested that not only do we need to accept all of our neighbors, but it’s our duty to show them their talents even when they can’t see themselves. In both these pieces, as throughout the entire series, the concept of the ‘Middle Ring’ and neighborhood connections reigns supreme to the success and prosperity to any community.

Also over the years I’ve also written about the stigma of mental illness and addiction and the toll it takes not only on those affected, but on our society as whole. The preconceptions, very often perpetuated by the media and family generational ignorance, is a disease in our society that must be eradicated. These attitudes are prevalent with the lifelong Scarlett Letter given to those with alcoholism or drug addiction where one is never truly better but always in a state of recovery or relapse, and the macho ‘suck it up attitude’ towards the effects of PTSD in the military. 

Well society, or should I say the entertainment side of it, may have taken a step towards walking a little more upright on Sunday night. Yes, we pulled our knuckles off the ground (if for just a bit). Sunday night the Tony Award for the best Broadway play for a drama went to ‘The Curious Case of a Dog in the Night-Time. ‘The Curious Case…’ is a play based on the 2003 book written by Mark Haddon which follows the investigation of a suspicious death of a neighbor’s dog. Haddon’s main character, Christopher John Francis Boone, suffers (and I don’t even think I should use that word) with Aspergers Syndrome, a form of Autism.

Curious Incident

Asperger’s is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, alongside with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. But it can also result in high functioning specialized area of expertise, such as math in the case of Boone. In fact as only a teenager, he performed at college level. Boone is a perfect example of an outlier in our communities who would be looked at as odd and nothing but a liability. But in truth, he’s the exact type of person that we need to not only accept … but celebrate.

Last fall, on my last trip down to Los Angeles to see my daughter, Alexandria, I read ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ At times it was difficult to read. In fact I had to put it down several occasions because it was just too much. I became immersed in Boone’s decision-making. He methodically described his thought process (including diagrams) – so it felt like you were there as I went though his daily activities and all the preparations, or rather the rituals, he depended on. I was there when he justified decisions I knew were going to go wrong … and did. But to him they made perfect sense and you felt for him. I had empathy. I was put into his world, however different that world was from mine – or anything I could conceive.

We need more books like ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.’ Or maybe they’re out there and they don’t get the recognition. Even the so-called experts predicting the Tony winners gave the play little chance and it was barely mentioned in conversation. Apparently they hadn’t seen it or read the book. But then again it’s the media, why should we expect anything from them but to aspire to the lowest common denominator. This is exactly why we, the people in the streets and in our communities, need to search out these outliers in our society and see what they’re all about, not just automatically dismiss or worse yet brand them with a Scarlett Letter. These are the people who add the color to our lives and unexpected experiences we’ll remember. But it takes effort to break past the stereotypes and societal norms that cloud our visions. It takes exercising our minds, breaking outside of our comfort zones.

I don’t want hold my breath, but I hope this acknowledgement of ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ will start a dialogue on the virtue of being different. I’ve even decided to refrain from calling conditions like Asperger’s and Autism illnesses. Maybe should we all take note and follow. Maybe when we encounter people like Christopher John Francis Boone, we should view it as a challenge to make ourselves better people. Maybe we can look at it as an opportunity to give our bloodied Neanderthal knuckles a chance to heal.

It takes taking a break from the looking for the ‘sameness, if yet for just a little bit. And you never know, if you try … maybe that little bit will become a habit.

And that would be a good thing.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey, “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

Don’t fall for Starbuck and “Staying off the Interstate”

About ten years ago I took a road trip from Los Angeles to visit my parents in Montana. After a couple of weeks, I drove back via my sister’s place in Nebraska. When leaving Christy’s place, I thought I’d try something. What if I made it all the way home to Southern California without touching an interstate highway or spending a cent at a national chain company.

It’s too easy to default to the easy … get on the highway, get off and eat McDonalds – and get back on the highway, and on and on. But isn’t there more?

My first stop was in Oklahoma. It was noon … lunch time, on two lane State Road 14. Out of nowhere was a little grocery store … and next to it was this huge black gentleman laboring over a barbecue barrel. This was lunch! After three dollars, great conversation – and the best pulled pork barbecue sandwich I have ever had, I drove on.

Now I could go on about the next two days. I could talk about Pie Town (the pumpkin pie is to die for!) … but I think you know how it’ll turn out. Every stop was memorable. Little I did know that venture would result in a business and life purpose I’m putting in play today.

Pie Town Cafe

Understand who your community really is … and who it isn’t

In the iconic 1950’s play, ‘The Rainmaker, by Richard Nash, a charming con-man named Starbuck arrives in a drought-ridden western rural town in Depression era America – and promises to bring rain in exchange for $100. The metaphor of Starbuck is alive and well in the 21st century. The difference however is that rain has been replaced with jobs and prosperity. And Starbuck has been replaced by big box retailer. They role into communities throughout the country with their caravans of snake oil promises and roll out with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) in tax and real estate concessions. However, the jobs turn out to be part-time minimum wage and the prosperity is disguised as instruction in getting food stamps.

A Civic Economics study from 2007 showed the state of Arizona’s then-$5 million contract with OfficeMax was causing the state to lose $500,000 per year in economic leakage. The methodology shows OfficeMax did not offer 62 percent of their employees any health-care benefits, costing Arizona taxpayers significant money to support them through the state’s health-care plan, which drains the economy.

BOSSIER CITY, LA – When Bill Winkler opened his small archery shop, he was prepared to compete against businesses large and small – but not against a government-financed competitor. “The day Bass Pro opened here in Bossier, the number of arrows I sold dropped off by 50 percent,” says Winkler.

A Bass Pro Shop opened in Bossier City in 2005 after city officials promised to give the retailer $38 million to pay for the construction of the 106,000-square-foot store in this Red River community. Such deals are commonplace.

Cabelas

Both Bass Pro Shops and its archrival, Cabela’s, sell hunting and fishing gear in cathedral-like stores featuring taxidermied wildlife, gigantic fresh-water aquarium exhibits and elaborate outdoor reproductions within the stores. The stores are billed as job generators by both companies when they are fishing for development dollars. But the firms’ economic benefits are minimal and costs to taxpayers are great.

An exhaustive investigation conducted by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity found that the two competing firms together have received or are promised more than $2.2 billion from American taxpayers over the past 15 years.

Retail is not economic development. People don’t suddenly have more money to spend on hip waders because a new Bass Pro or Cabela’s comes to town,” says Greg Leroy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a non-partisan economic development watchdog group based in Washington, D.C.

All that happens is that money spent at local mom and pop retailers shifts to these big box retailers. When government gives these big box stores tax dollars … they are effectively picking who the winners and losers are going to be.”

City and county officials are vastly overmatched in this game of sleight of hand. All they can see is the land of Oz, not the price to be paid getting there or the tactics of the ones behind the curtain. So when some politician, left or right, points to the supposed needed support of some government intervention (a regulation, a mandate, a subsidy or a tax break), they have created an alliance with big business. And unfortunately by default, they’ve made their enemy free-enterprise and our local Main Street entrepreneurs.

This is where you need to understand who your community really is. It’s not your Wal-Mart, it’s not your Target, it’s not your corporate owned McDonalds and it’s not the big box store down the street. They may be in your neighborhood … but they’re not your neighbors – they are not your community!

These faceless corporations are here to take – to take your money, to take the life blood out of the locally owned firms who are your community. The more you give them – the less you have to give to those businesses that really matter, your neighbors – your real community.

Four years ago, September, 2011 – I visited my home town, Minot, North Dakota. Earlier in the year, Minot was devastated by a “once in a century” flood … a flood that caused the evacuation and of one-third of its population and the destruction of countless home and businesses. I went back with my friend Sean Key to attend a benefit relief concert put on by the Black Eyed Peas. The B.E.P. had never even been to Minot, yet they raised nearly $2 million for the victims.

????????????Surrounding the stage, were the logos of the various businesses that contributed their time, effort and money to the relief efforts. Of these sponsors – all were local. None of them were national, even though many had presence in the town. There’s a Walmart in Minot. There’s a Target in Minot, and the there’s three McDonalds. But only the local businesses gave their time, their effort and resources.

Inequality isn’t a problem of the size of the pie

Much has been said about the unprecedented inequality we face in America, for good reason. Since the recession of 2008 virtually all economic recovery has been usurped by the top 1% and mega-corporations they represent. The rest of us are in virtually the same place as we were six years ago. Unemployment may be lower, but underemployment is higher and earning are frozen in time.

There’s not a lack of money in America. It’s going to wrong the places, accumulating (with no outflow) like those pools of stagnant water in your backyard that breed mosquitos. Any time you patronize a national retailer over a locally owned business, you are sending money out of your community. You are sending money to offshore accounts, to bloated institutions or worse yet greedy, self-serving CEOs. Every time you use Bank of America over your local credit union, or Home Depot over your local hardware store … you are killing your community, it’s losing a little bit of what makes it different – what makes it what it is.

40% to 50% percent of each dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community. Yet only 15% percent does with a large corporate entity, like Walmart, Target or Home Depot. What does that tell you! That’s 30% that could go to local parks or local business owners that would in turn spend it at other local business owners and on and on.

Will you let your community be just another mile marker on the interstate highway of sameness

There’s more to it than just economics though. Inside you there’s a part of your community. It’s what makes you what you are. The people, the experiences you had grabbing your morning coffee at the local coffee shop. It’s that antique table in your kitchen you bought at the second-hand store on Main Street. They’re part of who you are. It’s memories. What type of memories do you conjure up from a box store? Do you want to want your defacto town square, the place where your community congregates be Wal-Mart? Believe it or not, in much of rural America, that is exactly becoming the case.

This phenomenon is not happening by accident. These corporate retail behemoths recognize this is the ultimate market position. Not only do they crowd out smaller competition, they become a community’s sociological hub. And these hubs they create will not care about your town’s culture, its history and least of all – what’s made it different. On the contrary, your town will be made up of the same – the same as all the other towns and cities up and down the interstate … indistinguishable from each other except a different number on a mile marker.

Those communities that choose not arm themselves with the tools of grass-roots local sustainability will be left in the wake of big box store corporate boom and abandonment. Those communities still ‘wowed’ by the lies of Wall Street and the erroneous promises they make will be left to scrape for the economic and intellectual crumbs they feel benevolent enough to leave behind as they march from neighborhood to neighborhood re-enacting Sherman’s insidious Civil War ‘March to the Sea.’ Community 3.0 is my idea of the toolbox that I believe can provide the ammunition for us locals to fight back.

Interstate highway

Do you want your community to be one ‘off the interstate,’ creating memories that’ll make you smile when you’re sitting on your porch years down the road. Or do you want it to be yet just another mile marker of sameness.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey, “On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we’ll reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments as they come out.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

Silos

On June 25 in 1876, two mortal enemies found that the differences they had between them paled in comparison to the a threat both encountered.  After the Civil War, the U.S. government turned its attention to the Wild West and the fight against the Indians – or as they called them, “savages.”

Two warring tribes, the Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne were being relentlessly pursued by the U.S. Army – and specifically, General Armstrong Custer.  After numerous skirmishes with minor military leaders, they learned of Custer’s intention of attacking them in Southern Montana.

Separately neither the Sioux nor the Cheyenne had the upper hand … but together, maybe the result could be different. Unprecedentedly, Lakota chiefs Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull met secretly with Cheyenne chief Gall and devised a plan for their mutual survival.

The Sioux encampment of 6,000 plus was set on the banks of the Little Big Horn River in Montana.  Starting the night of the June 23, Sitting Bull moved the Sioux women and children down river out of harms way while the warrior chief Crazy Horse amassed the Sioux warriors in the cover of brush on the river bank.  After numerous skirmishes with Gall and his Cheyenne on high ground on 25th, the next day Custer moved down towards the banks of the Little Big Horn only to come face-to-face with the Sioux.

The infamous battle of Custer’s Last Stand lasted only twenty minutes with Custer’s army being annihilated.

Custer's white crosses

While the current economic climate and the fate of your community may not equate to the dire situation the Sioux and Cheyenne faced (or maybe economically and socially it does) … lessons can still be learned.

A community can’t isolate itself in a silo

A community’s resources extend beyond it’s borders: physically and socially. The borders and boundaries arbitrarily drawn a hundred years ago are nothing but an impediment to growth today. Let rivalries end on the high school basketball courts and football fields. A community can’t isolate itself in a silo in an attempt to ‘hold onto yesterday.’ And yesterday wasn’t really as good as we remember it. Civic and cultural myopia is a disease. A community should have it’s own identity and that’s good, but that doesn’t mean that identity shouldn’t evolve and expand. And with that evolution comes breaking down the ‘silos’ arbitrarily constructed many decades ago for purposes not at all relevant today. Threats and opportunities change as time changes. It’s a community’s responsibility to open their eyes and minds to all resources available to them, whether traditionally geographic or not. 

The boom in sports facilities is the latest version of a flawed strategy by cities — “building bling to accelerate growth,” said Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns, a Brainerd-based community development organization. “You could be like the guy who has the big house and the big truck that are all under water.”

City and county municipalities concern themselves often only with their image and not so much of the actual welfare of their residents. We see this across all government entities. Ultimately this creates unhealthy competition amongst civic neighbors. Whether it be competition for property taxes generated by oil refineries in Billings, Montana or a Wal-Mart Superstore in Southern California, municipalities wage war in revenue ‘fight to the death’ cage matches – each trying to outdo each other offering freebies and rebates. And seldom is any consideration given to the indirect costs. Police, fire, sewer and water services aren’t delivered by Santa Claus.

An interesting piece came out in the Atlantic earlier this year called, “The Miracle of Minneapolis.” Ironically it should have been called “The Miracle of the Twin Cities.” The piece details the success the Minnesota metropolitan area has had in combatting neighborhood inequality. The Twin Cities have broken down the silos of individual cities and municipalities and worked as a unit. The region plans as a single unit and shares tax revenue as a single unit. For the most part no neighborhoods are left to blight and ruin because not having a sufficient tax base. Of course the Twin Cities plan is not perfect, but it seems to work better than any metro area that condones infighting amongst its constituent towns and cities (which is pretty much every other one).

Break down our self-imposed limitations in search for solutions to citizenry wellbeing

But even with the success of the Twin Cities enlightenment, we need to look past governmental entities and the traditional description of civic demarcation … and expand our cerebrally self-imposed limitations in our search for solutions to citizenry wellbeing. 

On the global front we’ve seen this search take us to the formation of non-governmental organizations where their participants are united not by geography or politics but rather by cause, ‘solutions’ and the desire to voluntarily make an impact.

The term “non-governmental organization” was first coined in 1945, when the United Nations (UN) was created. The UN, itself an inter-governmental organization, made it possible for certain approved specialized international non-state agencies—i.e., non-governmental organizations—to be awarded observer status at its assemblies and some of its meetings. Later the term became used more widely. Today, according to the UN, any kind of private organization that is independent from government control can be termed an “NGO”, provided it is not-for-profit, non-criminal and not simply an opposition political party.

One characteristic these diverse organizations share is that their non-profit status means they are not hindered by short-term financial objectives. Accordingly, they are able to devote themselves to issues which occur across longer time horizons, such as climate change, malaria prevention or a global ban on landmines. Public surveys reveal that NGOs often enjoy a high degree of public trust, which can make them a useful – but not always sufficient – proxy for the concerns of society and stakeholders.

The devolution of the Nation State

Parag Khanna, Managing Partner of Hybrid Reality, a geostrategic advisory firm (amongst other things) hypothesizes the decline of the nation-state:

“The broader consequence of these phenomena [devolution of nation states] is that we should think beyond clearly defined nations and “nation building” toward integrating a rapidly urbanizing world population directly into regional and international markets. That, rather than going through the mediating level of central governments, is the surest path to improving access to basic goods and services, reducing poverty, stimulating growth and raising the overall quality of life.” 

While Khanna was speaking mainly of nations and federal governments, the same postulates can also be applied to local governments. Why can’t a socially connected geographic area function as a NGO around common cause and joined concerns? Granted most local charities and non-profit groups that help out operate this way, and these groups may be geographically inclusionary … their focus and direction probably isn’t. Normally they operate as silos themselves focused on their own funding raising and disbursement of resources acquired. Each have their own cause and flag to bear. Seldom do they cross-pollinate efforts to synergize around the overall wellbeing of the communities they serve. Non-profit classifications and tax reporting create environments ‘holding on to their own.’ The sharing of donor and membership lists is often considered taboo. Competition here is not unlike that we see with municipalities. Many national and international concerns, by nature of their visibility and marketing resources, monopolize prominent ‘do gooders,’ leaving little more than scraps for local causes that often make a much larger impact in the community in areas of higher concern.

Imagine if silos, governmental and not, were taboo. Imagine sharing was the norm, not the exception. Imagine if the only concern was the people … not who was doing the helping. The goal should be breaking down silos of municipal and charity jingoism in lue of ‘making things happen.’

Individual volunteers and ‘solutionists’ that can move from cause to cause

Imagine if the goal was to create an open-ended platform where invitations were extended to all, regardless of high school nickname or charity religious affiliation. This all-inclusionary platform is here to provide tools and guidance for diverse group aligned only around the causes and solutions they seek to pursue – not those pre-picked by marketing budget or the media.

This platform is not to be hierarchical, but rather organizationally flat. Any power structures created are only done so for each cause or ‘solution’ and the pursuit of them. On going organizations, constantly in pursuit of a cause and existing only for the act of self-preservation, are taboo in our evolved ‘solution’ based societal norm. When a problem or opportunity arises, groups are immediately formed and activities dispatched using the resources of the platform (including the human resources connected only to the platform). Individual volunteers or ‘solutionists’ move from cause to cause depending on their current passions and availabilities. Nothing is wasted. Resources are put towards the solution, not to the preservation of the organization.

rhizome

Credit: Debi Keyte-Hartland

We need to look past these artificial restrictions we impose upon ourselves. And to do that, we should look past only the organizational concoctions devised by the human species. Nature provides many desirable alternatives including a Rhizome theory developed by French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Rhizome features societal cross-pollinated connections, that allow for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points. Their theory is depicted in the example of the “orchid and the wasp” taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Deleuze and Guattari called the organizational representation of the serendipitous platform of ‘solution’ activity I described above, the ‘Smooth Space.

As humans we put too much trust in hierarchy, structure and institutional control. In theory some of this is fine, but in practice in puts too much authority and power in the hands of few. We can’t assume all of those we entrust in leadership positions will be as benevolent as we wish. We need to only look at the statistics of the ever-increasing levels of inequality, especially in the so-called developed world. The more developed a country gets, the higher it seems is the concentration of wealth in the upper echelons of its population. This is an institutional problem, not a people problem. And blind jingoistic allegiance to these organizational structures produces little but inefficiency, bloat and inequitable distribution of affluence to those in power.

We need to think new and break convention, especially on local levels where change can occur easiest, and where it can occur while working within the constraints of the system. Let’s not build structure for the sake of structure and create silos because we always have.

The human mind is adaptable and able to mold to situations and needs, both in itself and others. Let’s take advantage of it.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

The ‘Kernel,’ Your Community’s Cross-Generational Makerspace Ecosystem

“Beth Jacob is a New Orleans architect and historian whose research specializes in the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of New Orleans’ public markets. Jacob found that these markets and public spaces did more than just offer a space for communities to buy staples. They were true neighborhood places that served as anchors that attracted other businesses to the area as well as providing a physical space for civic discussion.”

These community oases, such as the public markets described above by Beth Jacob, won’t create themselves. In fact any community based effort is competition and will face obstacles put in front of it from big business and very often local government compliant in their activities. It’ll take a concerted effort by all residents of the community, young and old. In my previous piece I discussed the need for us to “Bridge the Gap” between generations as a vehicle for community and societal sustainability. Now it’s time to become pragmatic.

“We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting and it’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create the environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for “shared experiences; serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds, worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And I described in my previous piece, we don’t need a Lady Gaga reaching out to a Tony Bennett on every corner in each of our communities and neighborhoods. We just have to give serendipitous encounters some space to happen.”

But to do this we need to expand our minds to the definition of what these spaces can be. Public markets are just one type of these ‘spaces.’

What this bridging of generations will do is form the foundation for the re-building of the ‘Middle Ring’ housing the melting pot that innovation needs to percolate. And we have a movement, or should I say a mindset, afoot right now that may well prove to the perfect vehicle for this foundation, the makerspace.

A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, or art can meet, socialize and collaborate. In general, makerspaces function as centers for peer learning and knowledge sharing, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. Makerspaces function as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where makers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.

“Bridging the Gap” through film and 3D printing

“With one somber PBS documentary and a second project about “negative addictions” under his belt, William D. Caballero wanted to lighten the mood for his next film. That’s when he started giving a close listen to the rambling phone messages left by his Puerto Rican grandfather. “I’d laugh and play them for my friends,” Caballero recalls. “I realized I should do something with the voice mails because I felt like my grandpa’s messages had a universal quality that anybody could identify with.”

But instead of crafting a conventional documentary portrait of the colorful old man, Caballero twisted technologies, including 3D printing, to his own filmmaking ends and made the hilariously charming “How You Doin’ Boy?”

With his 3D printed inch-tall protagonist primed for action, Caballero drove from his New Jersey home to North Carolina and shot the short film’s co-star: a 20th-century rotary dial telephone, in his grandfather’s house. As a final touch, Caballero used Flash software to transform his grandfather’s handwriting samples into a custom font that spells out voice messages on screen.”

Technology is often a great divider amongst generations. But it doesn’t have to be. Technology is nothing but a means to an end. And it’s this that can be the common ground that connects people regardless of age. Remember the workshops of our fathers and grandfathers, and the tinkering that went on there? It was the same with our grandmothers and their crafts. How many grandparents homes aren’t adorned with needlepoint on the walls. Our grandparents didn’t buy art, they made it.

Bill Zimmer, a middle-aged software engineer at the Asylum in New York City, says that what’s going on in the maker movement would be more familiar to denizens of the year 1900 than any period since, because manufacturing is not only being domesticated — it’s being democratized.

Makerspaces aren’t a new thing, they’re an old thing. They’re that old shoe box on the top shelf of the basement closet that you’ve now figured out there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it – stuff that is surprisingly relevant today. Regardless of age, boys and girls like to make things, just like their grandparents do. Why don’t we create a ‘space’ where they can do it together? And let’s make it a space where one can mentor the other.

The older generations can teach the younger generations on the basics and history of ‘making things.’ And then the younger ones can teach their surrogate grandparents on how to bring these basics into the year 2015 through technology advances.

A makerspace should be a community serendipity hub where collaborative ideas can turn into real life things. And the more generationally inclusionary your makerspace is … the more your community will benefit from it.

This ‘space’ can be the seed of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative. We need a ‘Kernel’ … a space where things can grow – physically and sociologically.

chaos

A cross-generational co-creating ‘space’ where everything and everyone is a project

Imagine your community having a ‘space’ where everyone is welcome regardless of age, wealth or any other differentiating factor. Your ‘Kernel, would be a place where things happen, not just talked about. Your ‘Kernel’ is a ‘space’ where people come together under common goals, working together. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being your community’s hub … a place where anytime of the day of night – things would be discovered, transformed and created.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a makerspace not unlike a modern-day version of your grandfather’s shop – only where the skills and knowledge of yesterday are synthesized with the technology of today. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being craft center much like you’d see in grandmother’s spare bedroom when you visited her, filled with yarn, paints, fabric and any other material you’d need to ‘make things’ you’d end up taking home to hang on your wall.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a ‘space’ where the smells of its latest culinary concoctions emanate from its doors and windows, all created in a  physical melting pot representative of the metaphorical melting pot making up your community’s residents; young and old, male and female, rich and poor. And all these creations are started right there at your ‘Kernel’ in its greenhouse and gardens. And of course what isn’t eaten of premise is delivered to your community’s unfortunate and those most in need.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Your ‘Kernel’ must be about help, cohesion and collaboration. Every member of your community in unique and adds to its social and intellectual fabric. And every member of your community has gifts, talents and resources to offer. Sometimes they are evident to those who possess them. But often they’re not. It’s at this time when it’s up to you and your fellow community members to uncover them and expose these talents to the light so all can see them and benefit.

All too often people treat the knowledge and expertise as possessions to be kept close. It’s up us to show them it’s better for this knowledge to be is spread throughout their community … especially to the young. Your ‘Kernel’ should act as a nexus for these mentoring activities. Research indicates that community centers, even in much lesser forms than what I propose here with the ‘Kernel,’ provide young people with a physical and emotional safe haven. These ‘spaces’ result in higher levels of self-esteem and confidence for its participants than any other social settings including family and school.

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises” ~ Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)

Mentoring and guidance in your ‘Kernel’ need not be limited to the young though. Consider your ‘Kernel’ an “Idea Farm” where through collaboration and expertise sharing, pipe dreams turn into community entrepreneurial ventures. Consider your community’s ‘Kernel’ a technical innovation hub where it’s power is derived from solar and clean energy. And the tools available for creative endeavours include 3D printing technologies, laser cutters, screen printers, electronic lathes and all the latest software to run them. And imagine everyone, regardless of age having access and teaching other.

Gugnad (Norwegian): Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.

View your community’s ‘Kernel’ not just a technical incubator, but also one for social innovation. Imagine a social hub where organization, groups and individuals can come together under no auspices of hierarchy to create a new evolution of community involvement and betterment … a hybrid or sorts. And these ideas being shared amongst other ‘Kernels’ throughout the world.

Your community’s ‘Kernel’ should be a melding of librarians, civic leaders, students, professors, union members and trades people. It should combine high teachers with grade school students and grade school teachers with high school students. It should mix small business owners with the unfortunate who make their way via the streets and shelters along with the retired. And your ‘Kernel’ can even bring government and elected officials into the mix … as long as they understand their position is no higher or their influence no more than anyone else.

It’s impossible to calculate the effect your ‘Kernel’ will have on your community. The old will transfer their valuable professional and life skills to the young who are so in need of them. These same young will in turn have a ‘space’ where they can focus their attention and their dreams, other than biding time waiting for the other shoe to fall – standing on the street corner.

Your community will turn into one of a problem solving mentality where everything is a resource and waste has been truncated to a ‘four letter word.’ ‘Resource Maximization’ will be imprinted in the minds of everyone. The elderly, rather focusing only on their next doctor’s appointment, will be exercising their minds, their bodies and the most of all … their spirits. And they’ll be doing all of it in an outwardly community benevolent fashion rather than just holed in their home obsessing about their personal condition.

Your community will be revitalized. New businesses will be created. Not those derived from Wall Street chains and franchises, but ones of ideas born in your community and run by people from your community. And these will be the businesses that provide the genesis for the future to build on – ensuring its legacy and prosperity.

Old building

The concept of ‘Resource Maximization’ should not start once the walls of your ‘Kernel’ have been constructed. It must start at the very beginning. Assume traditional methods of financing won’t be available. Assume bids will be irrelevant, let alone the lowest one. Your ‘Kernel’ is about community and the resources it has available. Create your ‘Kernel’ with materials that are indigenous to your community’s locale using what’s at its disposal. And most of all … assume money is not first priority, but only the last resort when all other acquisition options have been tried and exhausted.

Your ‘Kernel’ should be a co-op venture between property owner and tenant. Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, landowners should participate in the success of the ‘Kernel.’ This success can be defined in returns on joint ventures created in the facility, or it could be participation on monthly users fees by members of the ‘Kernel’those not on scholarship because of age (young or old) or waivers due to income restrictions.

Schools and existing community buildings could co-oped. In return the landlords would get use of the facility for projects they would otherwise be able to do. Your ‘Kernel’ could even act a recruiting firm for local businesses in need of talent. A business could pay a retainer for access to contract expertise and mentoring generated by your ‘Kernel’ or a contingency is a member referred to them is hired full-time.

“Start your own personal industrial revolution” ~ Mark Hatch, CEO TechShop

Your ‘Kernel’ is an ‘opportunity ecosystem. It is the physical manifestation of my community employment platform, Community 3.0. It provides a ‘prototype’ cross-generational, cross-collar, entrepreneurial learning Hub for smaller communities and neighborhoods in larger communities.

Your community’s empowerment starts with a seed … it starts with a ‘Kernel.

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I invite you to travel with me on my journey,“On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” as I attempt to articulate my vision of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues – both problems and opportunities. Consider each week’s post a mile marker (MM) of sorts, a cerebral off ramp, taking a you little further down this road until sometime in September when we reach … well you can decide what we’ve reached for yourself. Also please subscribe so you can receive the weekly installments.

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You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+