Today I’d like to share my thoughts on three things: Winter, why I’m skeptical of regionalism, and the Halo effect that all Chambers need to stay relevant. I know, these things may seem completely disconnected, but if you stay with me for the next five minutes, I’ll do my best to weave them into something magical.
Let me try to put this current economic crap sandwich into perspective. It is Winter in America. And it was predicted.
In 1997, Strauss and Howe published The Fourth Turning. They predicted that around the year 2007, America would face a large national crisis. It could be a financial meltdown, a health pandemic, or - wait for it - a Tea Party. They weren’t sure what it would be, but they knew it was coming. How did they know?
Because it’s happened before.
Turns out, America goes through four distinct seasons. Like climactic seasons, America’s seasons are knowable and predictable. Here’s how the four seasons have shaken out most recently in America:
- Spring started after WWII. Everyone felt terrific, the economy was booming. GIs were getting college educations. Hope was in the air. Traditionalists (b. 1925-1944) were kids or young adults, and Baby Boomers (b. 1945-1960) were just being born.
- Summer was in full swing by the “Summer of Love.” Boomers questioned inequality and the status quo. People marched. And sat-in. And radicalized. Traditionalists - who were in charge - felt a huge “generation gap” between themselves and Boomers. Boomers were entering the workforce in full swing, and Gen Xers (b. 1961-1981) were just kids.
- In Autumn, American society started to show signs of decay: gas lines, Watergate, the Iran-Contra Scandal, the Farm Crisis, spiking divorce rates. Traditionalists were starting to retire, Boomers were taking over, Gen Xers were joining the workforce, and Millennials (b. 1982-2001) were just being born.
- Winter blew in with the 2008 financial crisis. Winter is expected to last for about 15 years, enough time for entire institutions to be reinvented, renewed, or retired. Boomers are entering their elderhood, Gen Xers are taking over as leaders, and Millennials are entering the workforce at full tilt.
To the untrained eye, Winter looks bleak. Things look dead, or frozen. In truth, winter is a time of great potency, when things hibernate in order to go through the necessary cycle of renewal. The grass will again push through the earth, and America will again enter spring. But not for awhile.
I believe that the communities that will come through this moment and emerge as winners in the next spring will be those that solve problems inter-generationally. It is absurd to think that Boomers - who are still mostly in charge in our communities - will be able to invent all the solutions required for their kids and grandkids to lead prosperous lives. What’s more, only 3 in 5 Boomers will be alive when Spring arrives. So the ethical thing is for Boomers, Xers and Millennials to work together to co-create the future…a future that the Millennials and the iGeneration (b. 2002-??) will inherit.
Look around your community and ask, ” Who’s at the Winter-to-Spring problem-solving table?” It should represent all generations.
2. Why I’m skeptical of regionalism
As I recently wrote for Madison Magazine, “I’m all for regionalism when it honors the unique strengths and assets
of all the partners. But I choke when I see regionalism used to equalize
all the partners. Like children, regional partners are not all gifted
in the same way. You don’t make ALL your children take piano lessons
(unless you’re the tiger mom). You assess each child’s talents and put
each child in the way of further training and experiences that will help
all of them become their best selves.”
Read the full article here.
3. The Halo Effect
During Winter, unlikely actors emerge as leaders. We saw this happen in Birmingham, where the Birmingham Community Foundation stepped up and led the initiative for a city-wide park plan. They didn’t wait for the Mayor or the Parks Department. The community needed a plan for green space, and the Foundation stepped up and led the initiative.
I believe Chambers could step up and play a similar role in their communities. Because the truth is that our local businesses know they need to step up - and they want to step up - and they are begging for Chambers to help declare a direction. Businesses I talk with are aching for their Chamber to boldly move in a direction that will help their communities create more jobs, spark some economic energy, and be inclusive of all the economic actors. That’s what leadership is.
Can Chambers get out of their own way?
I was working with a Chamber last year. We did a competitive scan of their business environment and found that there were 14 competitors in the business networking space. There were five other organizations offering “CEO Roundtables.” And the local business journal is coming after their Business Expo.
I asked, “What’s the Chambers differentiator?”
The response: “We have the largest sit down dinner of business leaders in the five county area each fall.”
A chicken dinner is not a differentiator. It may be part of your work plan, but unless you have some kind of halo over that work - a heroic purpose to play in your community - you’re irrelevant. The barriers to entry have fallen. Now your members can link in, friend, or poke any of your members; they don’t really need your Chamber to make introductions. Now more than ever, Chambers need to have a valiant purpose underscoring their work plans. Chambers need a compelling, business-first strategy to help their communities face Winter.
Here’s one idea: stop talking about being in the ‘economic development’ business and start talking about being in the prosperity business.
We are in Winter. Regionalism is not The Only Answer. And your Chamber could be a hero in your community.
Go ahead, grab that Halo.