About ten years ago I took a road trip from Los Angeles to visit my parents in Montana. After a couple weeks, I departed 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 that venture would result in a “business purpose” I’m putting in play today.
Our president is unveiling his jobs plan as I write this. Unemployment is high and consumer confidence is low. And the “insane clown posse” that poses as our government bickers about things that even my ten year old next door neighbor wouldn’t think relevant.
But as important as recognizing who your community is … it’s also important to recognize who your community isn’t. 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 community.
Of the sponsors of the Minot relief concert I was at (with L. Sean Key, my collaborator) with the Black Eyed Peas, none of them were these firms, even though all had presence in the town. There’s a Wal-mart in Minot. There’s a Target in Minot, and the there’s two MacDonalds. Only local business gave their time, their effort and resources.
This disgusts me!
Times are not good in America right now. But it’s not because there’s a lack of money. It’s because it’s going to wrong the places. Any time you patronize a national concern over a locally owned business, you are sending money out of your community. 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. You are sending money to offshore accounts, to bloated institutions or worse yet greedy, self-serving CEOs.
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 Wal-mart, Target or Home Depot. What does that tell you!
You may think that the couple of dollars you save – is worth it …. but is it?
It’s Sean Key – who inspired this post – and even though we’ve only been ‘arms length’ friends for thirty years, we now have just created a bond – a bond which I know will be unbreakable.
It’s Terry Summers and Brian Hankla, old friends of mine, friends who I seldom see but know will be there for me … and hope they know I will be there too.
It’s Shay Kelley – who even though had never been to my home town, Minot, North Dakota – drove hundreds of miles with her husband and dog to put in endless hours of needed help during Minot’s recent devastating flood. You inspire me. I only wish I could be half the person you are.
It’s the Black Eyed Peas – who with exception of Fergie, also had never been to Minot, but last night selflessly performed an epic flood relief concert raising two millions dollars for the victims. If only there were more people like you four.
It’s my daughter, Alexandria – while a pain at times, who provides me with an endless amount of joy and pride.
It’s my Dad – who daily amazes me with his unrelenting optimism and support.
It’s my local grocery store – who always greets me with smiles and conversation. While not necessarily having the best prices or selection … their service and hospitality more than makes for it. Go local business!
These are just a few members of “my community.” Each provides the bits and pieces to make the whole. And it’s important I recognize that I have to nurture them and help them grow – as they do for me.
A community needs love … to give love.
So go out, give some love … and build your community.
Imagine if you could close your eyes, click your heels – and find yourself somewhere else, somewhere where your personal little world was just like you wanted it to be.
About fifteen years ago I started using the phrase, “Road to Your Perfect World.” It was used mainly in the context of my recruiting business. “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Thus the “Road” moniker. I told my candidates to view a job as a just step on a bigger journey where they wanted to go. If the job they were considering didn’t do that … then move on.
Well the over the years my idea of the “The Perfect World” has changed. It’s not just about work or getting a job anymore. It’s more encompassing. If you’ve read this blog, you probably already know that. It’s about my ideas to fix everyday life and all that makes it up. So – welcome to my “Perfect World, circa 2011.”
My Perfect World
First it’s local. I’m all into the web, and what happens in the world and everything. And I’ve met some outstanding people that have expanded my life in areas I never expected. But when it comes down to it, it’s about where I’m standing, the ground underneath me, the tree over there (with the nest in it) – and the cat walking across the street in front of me. My physical, mental and financial health begins and ends here in my neighborhood. If I’m going make things perfect – I’m might as well start right here.
Second, there’s more to life than just buying things.My value on this earth is a lot more than just the size of my house or the balance in my bank account. And I don’t think I’m alone here either. Helping each other, whoever they may be, and spreading good karma is more valuable to me than any car in my garage. In this day of “slash to the bone” political rhetoric, a lot of people, even some of my neighbors, are falling through cracks. And the safety net has holes in it. So it’s up to us, the members of my community – to power up the sewing machine and fix that net.
Sometimes I do have to buy things though, so I’m going to make every effort to support locally owned businesses. These people are my friends and my neighbors. They are the parents of my daughter’s friends. Walmart’s not my friend, nor is McDonalds, nor is Amazon. I don’t hate these companies. But all I know, is three times more money flows into my community when I buy locally. That’s money for public art, for schools, for soccer leagues, and for cat parks (yes cat parks – imagine that – after all it’s my Perfect World). These things keep my neighborhood healthy, interesting and prospering.
Also, when I buy things, local or not, I want to be treated like an individual. I’m not like my next door neighbor or my daughter, so why am I marketed to the same way. Once I first start shopping at your business, I want you to start building a profile on me. I know some people think that’s creepy, but I’m cool with it. I don’t want to know about deals on diapers. It’s been twenty years since I bought diapers. Just because you’re too lazy to keep track of what I buy doesn’t give you the right bombard me with endless circulars and junk mail. Keep me informed on things that matter to me when I should know about them. Respect my time as well as my money. Business relationships are exactly that … relationships. So I want them treated like that.
And lastly, I want to not only have a say in what happens in my community – I want to actually make it better myself. I’m done sitting around and waiting for the government – local, state, federal, whatever – to make thing better for my neighborhood and for me and my friends. Whatever the level, government has gotten to point it’s nothing but a bunch of self-serving bureaucrats. We are much better served, serving ourselves. My neighbors and I know what needs fixing and who needs help in our own community. So in my “Perfect World,” we are going to deal with things ourselves. And it’s not just about throwing a bunch of cash around either (assuming any of us had a bunch of cash). It’s about helping however you can, with whatever resources you have. If you have a truck with a plow on it – help clear the snow in your neighbors driveway … and she’ll bake you a quiche in return. If you have open space in your office building – let a new nonprofit, volunteer tutoring service use it … for free. We learned in kindergarden to share. It was a good idea then – so why not now.
Well, that’s pretty much my “Perfect World,” at least in my own little corner of the world. And I think if a lot of other corners of the world did the same – who knows maybe things might just get better … maybe a whole lot better.
In fact that might not be a bad idea. Imagine if we could bottle my “Perfect World” and spread it everywhere, or at least a template for creating your own neighborhood “Perfect World.” And imagine if all these little local “Perfect Worlds” would talk to each other and share what they’ve learned. That could make their “Perfect Worlds” even more perfect.
My “Perfect World” may not be the same as everyone else’s, and that’s cool. After all, we’re all different. But one thing I know, is if you wait and hope someone else, mainly government and the big box store down the street, to tell you what they think it should be … you’re probably not going to be happy. How’s that been working for you?
I think there’s a lot of people out there that think the same way. And if you’re reading this then you’re probably one of them. We can make things better for a whole lot of people – if we just get back to the fundamentals, where it starts.
And it starts on your block, on your street – and in your neighborhood. A lot us have lost touch with our community and our neighbors – I’m no exception. But it’s time to reconnect … our neighborhoods need us to. This is where the real power lies. It’s waiting for you to grab it and run with it.
Note: The five items I described above may seem random, but they’re not . In a few months you see why. Keep in touch. I’m on Twitter at @clayforsberg
Every day there’s a new article chronicling the plight of education in the United States. I just read one today in the Atlantic. Every pundit has a different scapegoat. It’s the teachers. It’s the teachers’ unions. It’s the parents. There’s no money. The school day isn’t long enough. Video games are the problem.Blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s all of these … and it’s none of these. The problem is that our children just aren’t learning. But how can we expect anything more of them. We put hurdles in their way every chance we can. The bottom line is we are not giving them the platform they need when they walk into school every morning. If you prepared yourself for work the same way – you’d be in the soup line outside the homeless shelter. I’m not a teacher, or principal. I’m just someone who raised a kid and paid attention what worked for my daughter (and for myself when I was growing up) … and what didn’t. Here’s are my observations – and correspondingly, my suggestions:
We need more physical education in school, not less.I find it ironic, that many parents put a priority on their own fitness and its benefits, yet don’t care if their children are chained to desks eight hours a day with none. The more exercise, the more oxygen that flows to the brain … and the better it works. We are taught exercise in old age to wards off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease – yet ignore its benefits in young growing minds. And don’t get me started on the child obesity epidemic and the affects it has on focus and learning
Incorporate healthy food consumption in school.Whether it’s getting rid of junk food or adding healthy ‘in-school’ breakfast programs – food is the fuel for performance. We can say it’s the responsibility of the parents, but that doesn’t fix the problem. We can significantly make a dent by just “kick starting’ our kids every morning by feeding them nourishment that releases it’s energy gradually, rather that in a “spike and crash” fashion that most often is the norm. Even prison food is better. All we have to do is look at ourselves and the effect what types of food has on our own performance.
Change the average class length to two hours.Don’t increase the length of the school day. We have to get off this chasing the Chinese thing we’re enamoured with. Out of an hour class – only maybe forty minutes of it is actually used for instruction. Subtracting the time it takes to get from class to class, settle into their desks and waiting for the bell to ring – a third of class time is transition. Synaptic connections are strengthened best by focused periods of attention when the brain can build on a single topic – not constantly switching gears. Imagine organizing your work like a normal class schedule – yea right! Giving a child ninety or hundred minutes of concentrated thought on one topic will build the synapses so that half of it isn’t forgotten by the time they get home.
Teach writing … everywhere and all the time.Outside from composing music, the most stimulating thing you (or your child) can do is write. So why do our kids do so little of it in school. Writing is a skill that will be universal for the rest of their lives. Every discipline in school should incorporate writing in their curriculum. Have the kids write about the subject material – not just memorize. Use English class for more of an editing function – than just composition. By writing about the material in each class, serious thought will need be used.
Teach to relevancy not random facts.Currently our schools teach facts based around whats going to be on a standardized test. This instruction has no relevancy to our kids. It’s just random stuff that some old guy has told them they’re going to have to learn. Things happen in the world every day – and each can be a learning experience – a experience (a life story) that will stick and will be built on years in the future. You want children to be civic-minded – spend a month on the political elections when they’re happening. Conduct mock elections with the kids having roles in the campaign process. Discuss local as well as national issues. Engage them, show them the relevancy to their lives. Teach to stories. It’s been proven time and time again, a brain digests information via stories far better than anything else. Any sales trainer will tell you this. Yet we continue to pound random irrelevant facts into their brains and wonder why they don’t stick.
These are a just a few of my ideas. They’re really just about providing a structure for our kids to learn to think and use their brains. They don’t involve teachers pay, or new buildings, or new iPads (even though we should use them) or even the subject material. And for the most part they don’t really cost much. But they’re improvements that can make a serious difference in our children’s ability to learn.
More than anything, we just have to use common sense. So much of what I’ve described above, you do for yourself every day to help you perform and deal with your daily stresses. Why is it we can’t seem to think these same things would work for our kids? It’s almost like we want them fail.
Education is the paramount issue this country is facing – and yet we do nothing but throw around blame as our kids muddle through schools eight hours a day getting ready a for future they will be ill prepared to face.
I had a discussion yesterday with Sandy Maxey on Twitter about the unemployment issue here in the United States. Up till now, I’ve just had cursory thoughts about it. Everybody seems to have a solution. On one end we have full-scale government job creation intervention. And on the other, some profess in the unabashed free market. Of course the solution probably lies somewhere in between. Here’s my take on it.
First, not all short-term issues need to be “fixed.” Economies, just as the seasons, cycle and repeat. Just as you can’t expect your tulips to bloom year round – the economy isn’t always going to be bullish. There is a limit to prosperity. We don’t live in utopia. And very often our short-term interference does more harm than good.
We have evolved into a pampered society. We expect things to always be rosy. I don’t mean say that there are not people who are hurting … because there is. But for most of us – our plight is greatly overstated. Our individual wellbeing will ultimately be dependent on us ourselves. How we each deal with our up and downs is the determining factor, because our ups and downs will happen.
Second, we are witnessing a profound shift in the employment needs of the marketplace. In years past, we made things and we, along with world bought these things. Today, such is not necessarily the case. Manufacturing jobs, jobs which defined middle class are gone – and probably won’t be back. There is nothing government intervention or lower taxes can do about it. Efforts to nurture declining industries and their corresponding jobs will do more harm than good. It may not seem like that when you’re trying to pay the mortgage – but it is what it is.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t employment opportunities out there though. Unfortunately, our education system and most of all our attitudes towards jobs and security haven’t kept pace with reality and the changes in the marketplace. Our education system keeps churning out college graduates with middle management skills – yet the prospects for these jobs are bleak. We educate more and more want to be lawyers, yet technology is making much of the legal field obsolete.
The biggest culprit in this chasm between labor supply and demand are the parents of our youth. “I want my son and daughter to go college.” It doesn’t make any difference whether there’s a job at the end of ten of thousand of dollars of debt – they’re still going to college. It doesn’t even matter what the degree is in – “they’re still getting one.”
Now to my third point. The jobs that will fuel our labor recovery don’t exist … at least not right now. And I can’t tell you what they’re going to be. They’re just going to happen. What we as a country has to do is create a workforce that excels at being able to change … to adapt. We have to get back to being a country of entrepreneurial spirit. This is where the job and the opportunities will be – not with the Fortune 500. Our biggest problem is our reluctance to give up old perseptions and norms. We have a middle-aged unemployed workforce that is searching for jobs that aren’t there. We have college graduates searching for a secured career like their grandparents had.
Who would have guessed that the internet would have become what it has and spawn the opportunities it has. Nobody. Even five years ago, who would have predicted there would be ten of thousands of people creating cell phone applications – from their home. Nobody. There will opportunities that will surface that entrepreneur will take advantage of. But these entrepreneurs may or may not be in this country.
In fact, our insistence in holding on to outdated institutions has actually put us a disadvantage in creative thinking. We want things like they were. Even from a personal standpoint – we whine about gas prices, yet few of us make changes to our lifestyles. “Take a bus a day a week to work – not me.” Rather than take advantage of opportunities that higher gas prices have created – we bitch about it. Inactivity will do nothing but drop you further behind.
Well, things have to change. There’s no going back to the good old days of the past (even though they might not even have been so good). The crucial skill we have to learn and embrace is the ability, and even the mastery of being able to change and adapt. We have to learn to see what’s not there and take the risk to make it there. We may stumble, or even fall down. But if we know how get back up – who cares! We need to nurture our own personal Phoenix (see the post about my daughter’s tattoo and you’ll get my drift).
This new adaptable attitude has to encompass our entire lives including what we put value in. If you’re a parent, quit pushing your kids into a career and lifestyle that makes you feel good and impresses your neighbors. You won’t feel so good when you’re the paying off their college debt while your son or daughter lives in your basement looking for a job – unsuccessfully. And get over the “white picket fence” syndrome. While owning your own home might have been the American Dream for generations past … it’s no longer. In most cases, all it is is a ball and chain mortgage strapped to you that limits your geographic flexibility. You have to be able to go to where the jobs are. And owning a house certainly puts a crimp in that, especially in this market.
We can all sit and listen to politicians talk about what they’re going to do to jump-start the economy and lower the unemployment to pre-recession levels. But they have no better idea than you do or I do. Only you know what your own personal answer is. You have to take matters into your own hands. But please, loosen up your criteria. Whatever security you had in the past is probably gone – so deal with it. When you think things are bad … they could be a lot worse. I know. For two years I rotated between living in motels and a tent (with my teenage daughter). And in hindsight, neither one of us is any worse for wear. If anything we’re both a lot stronger and more empathetic.
I know I’ll get comments bagging on my lack of sympathy. And they’ll be right. Sympathy is not my strong suit. But what I do have is empathy. I’ve been there and know what it takes to completely change my frame of reference and really come to grips with what’s important to me.
All I ask from you is develop the skills to adapt and see the opportunities that out there – not the ones you wish were out there. And please help your children do the same. Don’t cement their view of value and the world with yours.
“The mind can make heaven of hell … and hell of heaven.” So get out there create your own heaven.
Please comment. Your views and insight, pro or con, are valuable and make the post.
Also follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg. There’s always good stuff happening there.
I originally wrote this post two years ago but with recent developments in Congress recently, it is might be even more relevant now than then. This last Thursday, the Republican led voted to cut $40 million out of the food stamp (SNAP) over a period of five years.
For literally thirty years, I voted in every election. It didn’t make any difference what was on the ballot. It could have been a presidential election – or even just a local bond initiative. It didn’t make any difference, I voted. I even spent three years as my precinct head when I lived in Orange County, California.
There were two things that were mandatory viewing in our house when my daughter Alex was growing up – both days of the NFL Draft and every election. I even took Alex’s 6th grade teacher to task when she assigned math homework on the night of the Clinton / Gore election. Election day is to learn about elections, government and all things related – not math.
Election day is a big deal for me and it started early. I cried when I was a fourth grader in 1968 because Humphrey lost to Nixon. “If only the blacks in the south side of Chicago would have come out and voted, then Illinois would gone Democrat and the election would have been thrown into the House of Representatives which would have voted in Humphrey.” Needless to say, I was into elections.
The last two years have saddened me. And I’m sure I’m not the only one. I don’t need to go in detail the reasons why. Let’s just say government has become a “useless abyss of self-centered attention grabbing clowns.” They have completely lost their way and I see no hope in sight.
But probably more than government itself, I’m saddened by the people, the people who have come to rely on government – and those people who have championed their causes. The safety net so many have depended on, is rife with holes and the seamstress in charge has been laid off. But yet I hear the same chorus sung to the same audience. “Please fix the net.”
I read an article in Harvard Business Review (read the article here) last week about the plight of inner city youth and the success the program, YouthBuilders, is having. But as with so many of these government assisted programs – funds are being cut and their survival are in question. The author made the comparison of the benefit of funding YouthBuilders rather than incarceration (the likely other alternative). His solution is to further inform the voting public of the benefits of the former over the latter, in hopes they will vote for candidates that favor the preemptive assistance strategy.
In theory all this makes sense. If you give the people the information, then of course they will make the right decision. This theory assumes government works, though. This a big assumption and most likely a wrong one. Below is the comment I submitted on what it’s going to take to fix the things that need fixing that government used to fix but isn’t interested in fixing anymore (wow, that was a big breath).
Charles, I feel for you and the others who have obviously spent much time and energy pondering our county’s urban dilemma – the state of urban youth. Unfortunately I disagree with your approach.
In your closing, you posed the question – “Would more information help sell the public on the benefits of the programs you described?” I believe it’s your hope that by providing detailed analysis, the light will be turned on in the pubic’s head and we will be on the road to “making the right decision.” The problem is – people seldom make decision based on rational and analysis. They make decisions on emotion. Just take a look at the insanity we’re witnessing with our political bodies throughout the country. If anyone actually looked at the implication of these “half-backed” scorched earth ideas, there would be revolution in every state and locality, in addition to D.C.
The public assistance pendulum has swung past the reach of those who truly need it. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. There needs to be a different approach – a different plan of attack.
The power to solve our urban woes does not lie in Washington nor even in a state capital. It lies in the streets – in the streets of the neighborhoods you’re trying to change. For any meaningful change to take hold and have staying power, it has to come from within the community. And no matter where the community is, it has resources. The solution lies in maximizing these resources.
When all we do is obsess over why the government isn’t there to help prop us up, we lose the focus to help ourselves. And by ourselves, I mean the community as a whole – not just us as individuals. Everyone has resources to offer … and I don’t mean money. Around every corner there are mentors, there are tutors – there are role models. They may not be as easy to find as in the suburbs – but they’re still there. You just have to look a little harder, and be a little more creative.
Rather than fight and obsess over what probably won’t be there – find the answers in your neighborhood. Take the components of successful projects such as YouthBuild and figure out to implement them yourself as much as you can. They may start out abbreviated – but with time they will end up larger and stronger than ever. The strength is there. The resources are there. But it will take resolve and focus to solve decades of old problems.
But maybe this is the time – the time when it looks as if the light is dimmest. Maybe the solution is just around the corner … with our friends and neighbors.
That kind of sums up where my head’s at. Everything is local. And the solutions lie in our neighborhoods. It’s where we live and it’s where help is … at least where it should be. The future I want will lie in the neighborhoods, not in the capitols, not in the boardrooms. The problems we have, as well as the opportunities, will be addresses by us on the ground floor. Nobody in the silos of conceit and self-indulgence has any interest in anything but themselves.
Some may think protests or demonstration may be effective in changing the status quo. I don’t. Direct implementation is though. We are going to have to band together, as stakeholders in our future, and fix things ourselves.
The faster we admit it … the faster can get going and do something about it.