The Local Economy Revolution is one of those packages of ideas that’s simple on the surface, but sometimes hard to fully get your head around. As a result, I’ve been slowly learning how to explain what this book is about,, and do it in a way that balances the hearfelt and the head-worthy. I think I’m getting better at it. Here’s a couple of pieces from this interview that I think get at what I mean — and since he apparently thinks of me as a destructive force, I guess it makes sense that I kind of laid into one of his questions in a way he probably didn’t expect!
You can read the whole thing here, but here’s a taste:
So what I most wanted to do with this book was peel back, get underneath the level of the programs and methods that we tell people they should be using, and get to the deeper place of why it matters. Why is it that we need to change what we do so fundamentally? What’s driving the need to discard some of our familiar old approaches and strike out in directions that are unfamiliar and scary? Why should I keep trying when it’s hard, so very hard?
The book was designed to give people an underpinning, a deep framework for understanding why all the new methods and change are necessary. And hopefully find some encouragement to keep at it when the work of being a changemaker gets tough.
…I am starting to conclude that the attraction model of economic development, at its core, has largely outlived its usefulness, and I think that simply transferring economic development’s historic dependence on attraction strategies from businesses to people… doesn’t fundamentally impact the root of the problem.
Here’s what I mean: If a community is going to focus on “becoming a magnet for top talent,” it’s going to find itself in tighter and tighter competition for a pool of “talent” that, if it’s growing, isn’t growing at anywhere near the rate necessary to appease the huge and growing number of places trying to jockey for a piece of that action. ….
The goal can’t be simply making your community a magnet for talent. I think we have to shift internally, to focus on making the best possible use of the community and human assets we have in our communities. That means growing our own talent based on the unique environment that each place individually offers. And we have to start with the raw materials that we have to work with. Otherwise we have just shifted the hunt for big businesses to the hunt for fancy degrees, while the places we are trying to attract them to fall apart.
I want to not only see the denizens of the other local government silos at the economic development plan table, but I want to see the shop teacher, the high school student, the immigrant mom, the environmental whacko who opposes everything….they all need to be part of it, or at some level, it doesn’t work. It won’t work, it will miss something important. That doesn’t mean that they’re allowed to drag the work off track or overturn the objectives. It does mean that a structure is used to engage them in the search for solutions that everyone knows we need.
I don’t claim to have a magic answer to all our community economic woes. What I have concluded is that our usual simplistic approaches – shoving on two or three levers and insisting that our tweaks on those will generate the complex results that we said we wanted – that’s not working. As humankind, we have methods for understanding and dealing with complex interrelationships, but we’re not using them on the public policy level yet. My long-term objective for the Wise Fool Press is to help us do that better. But we have to make that mental shift, step out of that simplistic paradigm first, before we can do the rest.