Week 207 in Detroit. Detroit, the heart of America, and, the once and again, heart of the American economy, is as aware as any city that everything is global. Proximity to Canada, notwithstanding, Detroit defines America, always has.
So has New York City.
Our cities, the face of America, are prominent in our concept of America. Of what “us” means especially in a time like this. Often the rural and suburban communities throughout the country seem to feel like the face of America is all that people know but the backbone of the country is just as strong to our identity. Of course, it is easier to categorize than embrace nuance or ambiguity. As we all know, however, the world is only getting harder to categorize. More complexity. More ambiguity. More activity.
Considering the complexity can be scary.
Global thinking is scary.
It’s true. It’s sexy, sure, especially when it’s in a movie or, ya know, something French. It’s also scary. The globe got smaller which made it feel bigger. The global economy now accessible by cell phone pretty much anywhere threatens as many as it empowers. The information, news and access empowers many, many more than it threatens but the movement of jobs is fast and unpredictable. The whims of the global consumer second only to the data and intellectual property (IP) predicting the whims of the global consumer.
Global thinking means more than just economic calculations now too. A computer virus from Ukraine moves through computers on every continent in seconds. An actual virus from China has the power to sentence the vast majority of the world to house arrest. Viruses of all kinds are a reminder of just how fast the world is moving. Faster than many workers (or voters) can keep up. What’s left to do but search for a source to blame?
Could it be as simple as human nature? Some embrace change and some resist. Some like routine and others spontaneity. Could it be just that there are night owls and morning birds? The fact that some of our preferences are as fundamental as our physiology. Could our reaction to changes, even global changes, be similar?
Sure, these instincts can be overcome. Create an interrupt to the routine and follow it to spark spontaneity. Go to bed early enough and wake up at the first alarm. Oversimplification, perhaps? Occom’s razor and all that.
I don’t know what that means for your business or your anxiety level this weekend, but it’s possible the feelings of change after this experience only accelerate. Not to mention the rate of change itself. It may feel like we’re going “back in time” as I’ve heard some say. Sure, we’re making sourdough bread and bartering with our neighbors. But we’re also evaluating and re-evaluating supply chains, national security and the meaning of the American Dream.
Scientists and technologists are responding and innovating. Out of a crisis comes action. Politicians and journalists try to help us understand, or don’t, but the bottom line for all of us is “compared to what.”
We’re going “back in time” compared to what?
The sense of community.
There was a time, frequently referenced, when (apparently) community felt closely knit. Of course, the size and shape of the community that felt closely knit was a matter of perspective. And still, we have a sense of a lost sense of community. Community (sense or not) brings us together. Isolation does not. Communities are about density but also about commitment. Samuel Kling, Chicago Council on Global Affairs, asks “What lessons will today’s city leaders take away from the pandemic?”
One hopes it is not someone to blame but rather opportunity. Too many tend to “blame urban spaces while neglecting the economic system that created these spaces. If changing the urban environment could solve urban social problems, then the economic system of industrialization could be left more or less intact.”
The answer seems to be that city leaders, like all of us, are human. “As in the past, the answer partly depends on how they diagnose the problem.”
Our intention to acknowledge and recognize community is what binds us. The community was never the ideal we remember but this is a reminder that we get to define community and what it means. We get to define it. Just like we get to say what government should do. We get to say who (and what) is important to us — locally and nationally. We get to decide who we listen to. We can choose to care but we have to desire it.
Admittedly, it feels, somewhat, like caring for those around us became an afterthought. A few weeks ago I wrote about finding the silver linings during this crisis. One such silver lining, for me, is my connection to place and community. I have been inspired by how my community lifted up small businesses — gyms, bakeries, restaurants and salons.
This is not fair or equitable. It won’t be solved with gift cards. But you can only control what you can control.
Defining community is something we can all control.
We’re innovating compared to what?
One way I’ve suggested we all deal with this global pandemic and follow-up economic environment by getting smaller, focusing on community. That’s good enough for now, for today. Redefine community and embrace only what we can control.
That perspective reframes the concept of community and gets us caring for ourselves and each other.
It is the start we need. But it’s just the start.
Building new things is how we change the future. Impact the outcome…not just the output. In fact, building is how we reboot the American dream.
Marc Andreessen, co-founder of Andreessen-Horowitz, blogged on the problem and proposed the solution. Well, not the solution, per se, but the mindset to find the solution. A desire to build. Housing. Education. Manufacturing. Transportation.
Andreessen writes, “The problem is desire. We need to *want* these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.”
I was inspired. Inspired to demand more. I saw criticisms of Andreessen’s post. It lacked detail. Too big. Too strategic. Impossible thinking. I think that’s what I loved about it. You’ll see it when you believe it.
“We need to demand more of our political leaders, of our CEOs, our entrepreneurs, our investors. We need to demand more of our culture, of our society. And we need to demand more from one another. We’re all necessary, and we can all contribute, to building.”
It’s why what the President of the United States says matters. It’s why elections have consequences. It doesn’t feel like they do until the really do. You have to believe, to be committed, to the vision in order to build the big things.
And that’s why the concept of community, the way we interact with community, is inextricably linked to the big things. The love of a community and of other people is the fuel that allows the desire to do big things to burn hot.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
To me, what stood out this week was the power we have to establish our place, our community without losing the fire, the ambition to do the big thing. Reimagine the American way of life. The power to have both visions of the world — local and global — coexisting is the way we gather support for true change.
I spent some time reading a long Kanye West interview in GQ magazine this week. Kanye is not a bad representation of the point, I think, I’m trying to make here. Intense vision. Big ambition. Local product. Complex and problematic and inspirational. Kanye can create a sneaker and then apply global, almost spiritual, meaning to it. He has clearly started applying spiritual meaning to his music and, apparently, his existence.
As somewhat baffling some of his quotes can be, he still leads with creativity, inspiration and deep meaning. He told the author that part of his breakdown a few years ago was losing sight of his true self. He said, “You get into a position and you become influential, and that becomes more of your goal rather than following your spirit and your anointing…”
Somehow this week in thinking about a global pandemic and writing about big dreams, it occurred to me that Kanye West might have a point…at least on this. Our desire to remain comfortable and influential as American consumers has left us uninspired and vulnerable. My friend James once said to me, “it’s about inspiration or desperation.”
What’s going to get you up in the morning?
What will spark the next big thing?
Will it be you?
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11
Something lighter but just a meaningful. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) published a series of cello suites performed by the cello section as solo performances from their homes. It is friendly, warm and beautiful. Enjoy!
“It’s a bizarre but wonderful feeling, to arrive dead center of a target you didn’t even know you were aiming for.” ― Lois McMaster Bujold
Continued success and continue to answer well,