William Ward once said, “The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
I had a conversation recently with a good friend lamenting the lack of both vision and critical thinking entrenched in his small community. Having spent a few years in that community, he wasn’t telling me anything that I and many others didn’t already know. He was just frustrated and had to vent.
Unfortunately, that conversation is very common and true in so many communities across our great country. It thus begs the theoretical question of which is more important, vision or critical thinking? I would respond this way. Without vision and big thinking, there isn’t much need for critical thinking. It takes no critical thinking to continue doing the same things in the same way, in fact that might better be described as mindless meandering.
We humans are largely programmed to take the path of least resistance. We do this even when we suspect that path doesn’t end well. In the stock market and media world, that would be referred to as the “herd” mentality. I would also offer that the herd is rarely correct and has a very poor track record in financial and business environments. Let’s also add community transformation and revitalization to the category of bad endings with a herd mentality.
Why would we add community transformation and revitalization to the mix? Very simple, the current system is stacked against small communities in today’s world. Let’s break it down. Government by nature and design is built to move slowly. That is a great strength during normal or routine times. After all, it keeps communities from making hasty decisions. On the other hand, when unsettling economic times rear their ugly head, the ability to move rapidly might be the only difference between ultimate success and failure.
Additionally, the entire national economic system is stacked against smaller communities and redevelopment as well. The entire economic system in this country is geared to slowly drain resources from smaller communities and redistribute those resources to larger cities and companies. While some of it is certainly by design, much of it is very unintentional. When we spend money at any non-local entity, those dollars are sent to wherever that corporate headquarters might be and therefore gone from your community forever. I should add, this isn’t always bad. Many services and products can only be acquired this way. However, when the dollars leaving the community through big boxes, chains and out-of-town owned businesses exceed those staying in the community, the trend line as well as your future outlook are predictably not very bright.
How does vision play into all of this? As we mentioned above, thinking small coupled with lack of vision will be the final nail in any community coffin. To battle the impact of the government, economic realities and any other roadblocks, your community needs a healthy dose of vision. Thinking small and vision are an oxymoron. Many traditional leaders and influencers tend to focus on the issues that do nothing to solve the real problem facing communities which is the need for rapid change led by vision. Rapid change is the only way out for communities stuck in a rut to effectively overcome small and hesitant minds, complacency and tradition. Their traditional foundations run fast and deep. Rapid change tends to rock the foundation and overwhelm the old guard quickly.
Let’s be clear, rapid change is rarely perfect at first. Some things can go wrong. Don’t allow small and mediocre minds to make mountains out of molehills. Point out things that go different than the plan, correct them quickly, but always focus on the vision and the end game. Don’t get sucked in by small minds that dwell on what amounts to small things in the grand picture. That mentality has destroyed and will continue to destroy many communities. Remember and understand that perfect will always be the enemy of great!
Always remember the progression of nearly any transformational task. First you work hard and become good. Then you refine and make that great. After that, you continue to strive for perfection. Don’t get obsessed with perfection, as we just stated, perfect is the enemy of great and is rarely achieved. I will settle for greatness any day.
John A. Newby is the author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street" weekly column dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local. He can be reached by email at: john@360MediaAlliance.net.