Because, science: Go screw up.

What do you need to convince you to read this article from Fast Company, other than this lead?

Science Confirms It: If You Want To Succeed, You Have To Screw Up 

tennis ball stuck in net

from Fast Company. Looks like my serve.

The book told you to do that, now science says so to.  So go tell your boss that it’s time to go make those mistakes!


From the Good Ideas File: More on People’s Liberty

I had the great fortune of taking my 16 year old to the launch of People’s Liberty, the very ground-breaking Cincinnati philanthropy that I wrote about last week.  The great thing about taking the kid was that…he’s already over 6 foot, so he could actually see what’s was going on in a sea of 350 of our new best friends.  For someone my height, it’s like having a periscope, except that you have to shout a description of what you’re looking for up to the viewfinder.  But we take what we can get. Plus he got to meet a lot of great people, which makes a mom very proud.

People’s Liberty just shared its introductory video, and I thought that this three minutes gave a very good overview of what they are trying to accomplish and how. Warning that the 16 year old is already planning on applying for one of the smaller grants for a bright idea of his when the applications come out this spring (Moms also tend to get defensive….grrr).  But the big cahuna fellowship is available to Cincinnatians right now.  I told the kid he had to finish high school first, so that one’s all yours.

Here’s the video.  I’m looking forward to seeing great things out of the People’s Liberty initiative.  Stay tuned.

People’s Liberty Overview from People’s Liberty on Vimeo.

From…well, me: Asking for your Support to Test a Way to Get More Tech People Involved in Making Communities Better

I posted this last week at EngagingCities.  We’ve got a potential to demonstrate to a lot of tech people how they could actually make a difference in their communities.  But to get that chance, we need help.  As in, your help.

Here’s the lowdown:



I usually try to keep a relatively low profile at EngagingCities, but we need your help with something.

We have proposed a session for South By SouthWest Interactive (the tech conference part of the mega-event SXSW, held yearly in Austin, Texas.  The session that we’re proposing to do is called

Hey Techs: Yes, You Can Help Your Town. Here’s How

Here’s the game plan:

Lots and lots of people who design software, produce music, make videos, do social media stuff and lots of other types of things show up for this event.  Thousands.  There’s usually sessions on all sorts of app development, open data use, and even a few that get into social impact, but not many that actually help tech-oriented people understand exactly how they can use their skills in the places where they live to help improve the lives of the people who live there.

As a lot of the articles we’ve posted here over the last couple of months has indicated, people increasingly realize that using technology to make a difference takes more than just building a cool app — it requires understanding how local governments work, where their pain points and points of resistance are, and how to craft and maintain an online tool that makes an impact on people’s civic lives.  And for people who aren’t in the biggest cities, that can be extra tough.

So what we’re proposing is part eye-opener, part demonstration and part group exploration (in true hacker style).  If it works, it may also be a training/engagement model that we can share with you to help you open the doors to your tech/community potential in your town, as well.  We’ll post the materials and either audio or video here for your use as well (depending on what SXSW will let us do…)

A big piece of the SXSW selection process is popular vote.  So if that sounds like it might benefit you, please give us a vote — even if there’s no way you’re going to Austin. We’ll make sure you get to learn from it.  When you go to the SXSW PanelPicker, you will be prompted to create an account, but that’s just an email and password, and then you can search all of the session proposals.  You don’t have to be in the USA.  And they don’t spam unless you want them to.

Here’s the description of the session — and if the link in the last sentence doesn’t work for you, it’s

If you work in technology, the world of local government and real estate development can seem completely foreign – even though you know it affects everything around you. Learn why your local government people don’t seem to get it, understand why they have such a hard time getting things done, and how you can use your skills and connections to help make your community work better. We’ll share stories from across the world from people just like you in communities a lot like yours, and we’ll discuss together how you might be able to make a difference. Bring your good ideas and your frustrations, and get ready to discover how you can make an important difference where you live.

Voting is only open until September 7, so if you’d like to see this session offered, please vote today.



Thanks.  You’re very nice.

Della Rucker

Managing Editor, EngagingCities



From the Good Ideas File: People’s Liberty turns community philanthropy inside out

One of the big questions underpinning the Local Economy Revolution book and a lot of other current thinking about urban and community revitalization might be summed up like this:

We have been doing X for Y years.

We can point to some improvements, but fundamentally, the problems that we started doing X to fix…haven’t been fixed.  They’re still there.

So apparently X doesn’t fully work.

What the heck do we do next?


There is some good innovative work coming out of Living Cities, a collaborative of a number of national philanthropies that has been trying to reframe and address these issues (you can check out an interview that I did with the executive director of Living Cities for EngagingCities here).  And there’s lots of smaller local organizations that are definitely trying something new.  But there’s not a lot of them that I know of who are completely rethinking how a philanthropy can make an impact on tough challenges — and placing Little Bets to figure out how to make that work.

People’s Liberty is a new initiative in Cincinnati, Ohio, that is just getting off the ground thanks to two local foundations, the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and  The Johnson Foundation.  This recent article from ImageMedia publication Soapbox does a great job of outlining the plan of action [full disclosure: I’ve know Eric Avner, Haile’s Vice President and Senior Manager for Community Development for well over a decade (ouch… sorry Eric.).  And I’ve had the pleasure of applauding a long stream of his great ideas and excellent initiatives.]

From the start, the vision for People’s Liberty was pretty clear:


People’s Liberty will be occupying a store front here, in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine / Findlay Market area.  From

From New York to New Orleans to San Francisco, the duo spent 12 weeks visiting 11 cities, looking at more than 30 labs of social and cultural innovation. Their conclusion: Most labs were struggling for resources; very few were philanthropy-bred or led; and the most successful ones were rooted in “place.” So Avner threw down the gauntlet: What if they created a lab that was resourced right and invested directly in people? ….

A joint collaboration between the Haile Foundation and The Johnson Foundation, the lab is fueled by three main tenets: Innovation must be disruptive. The future of a city is determined by who gets involved. Philanthropy is more than cutting checks. Those tenets have informed a trio of official programs, including events that engage the community, creative residency for early-career talent and grants that will be awarded directly to individuals.

Here’s how that works:

With an annual grantmaking budget of just over $1 million, People’s Liberty will give out three types of grants: 16 Project Grants of up to $10,000 for a period of roughly six months, three Globe Grants for interactive installations to transform the People’s Liberty storefront, and two Haile Fellowships of $100,000 each (similar to McArthur Genius Grants). [….]

In addition to the impressive pool of funds that will allow recipients to pursue their civic ideas full-time, the two grantees will receive 12 months of co-working space at People’s Liberty, and support with design, marketing and outreach. The grants will be awarded to individuals who have identified a major local challenge and have an ambitious plan for addressing it. Over the course of the year, they will be required to exhibit, talk, publish and host events that showcase their solutions and inspire actions in others.

“The goal is to get the next group of people who have stuck their toe in the water of civic engagement to take the leap,” Avner adds.

I think this one’s going to be a blast to watch unfold.  And I think one day we’ll be looking back at it as a whole new way to answer that question at the top.  Stay tuned to People’s Liberty.


From the Good Ideas File: Make your community a MakerSpace

One very interesting emerging approach to growing entrepreneurship (and perhaps some of that can-do empowerment that I mentioned yesterday) are makerspaces — collections of tools and maker resources that people can access to work on projects of interest.  The benefits of a makerspace include access to equipment that a person with an idea might not be able to get in their own garage (assuming they had a garage, of course), and perhaps more importantly, access to a community of like-minded people who can teach each other, problem-solve together, and help each other through the inevitable frustrations and brick walls that come with trying to make something.   This post from MAKE magazine outlines not the workshop layout (although the graphic is pretty cool), but it sketches the more important part: the process.

interior of warehouse with equipment sketched

Yup, cool, right? From

To use the terms I used to frame local government and community options for supporting small business growth in a webinar I gave for Lorman a couple of weeks ago, a makerspace is typically one of those situations where a local government or a community organization should take a Feeder role, not a Leader role (apologies to Brad Feld).  As much as anything because you probably shouldn’t be the person in charge of acquiring a CNC cutter or building the large-scale 3D printer.  Someone in the potential Maker pool in your community is probably much better qualified for that.  So it makes sense to do this in partnership with people who are interested in supporting a maker movement in your community.

“Feeding,” however, doesn’t mean “passively sitting back and doing nothing.”  One of the best examples I’ve seen yet of a makerspace that’s directly tied into economic development strategies comes from the  Allentown Economic Development Corporation in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  You can listen to a great interview with Matt Turek about the impact of the makerspace on PodCatalyst here.

From the Good Ideas File: Developing the Community Can Do attitude

This interesting piece from the Sustainability Collective talks about issues relating to shifting residents’ and leaders’ perspectives, and gets at one of the toughest issues embedded in the Local Economy Revolution book: the need to not just get public feedback, but to crowdsource wisdom from members of the community.  One of the impacts, and perhaps it should be one of the goals, of crowdsourcing wisdom, is that people learn (or re-learn) that they can make a real impact on the direction and value of the community, and that leads to better decision-making and a more economically and culturally resilient community.  That’s also the main topic of an upcoming book — you can read a draft of the introduction here.

Do go read the whole thing, but here’s a couple of pieces that I thought were very broadly relevant:


If only it were just a matter of a city authority taking such an example and saying, right, let’s implement that. Besides the economic hurdle to be overcome there is an even greater one: the cultural hurdle.

How do you change the mindsets and attitudes of officials who, in some cases, have been working for the authority for decades, and have their own fixed ways of doing things which were set in stone when they themselves were trained?

And how do you get a community that is not used to thinking for itself to take responsibility for developments in its own neighbourhood?

Aren’t these the greatest challenges to sustainability?

And, after an overview of a specific project:

It’s not just officials’ attitudes that have to change; the community itself has to develop a ‘can do’ attitude, something especially challenging in areas with a high student or transient population.

A new initiative – an ideas and innovation hub – is being developed in Swansea for council officials to brainstorm how they will deal with the challenges ahead. But even this approach is not necessarily straightforward because often officials are reluctant to admit their agendas.

(We all have encountered situations where a department has developed a plan for an area and then operates a consultation process where it goes through the motions of soliciting the opinions of others, eventually plumping for the original option.)

Short-term solutions tend to be easier for the human mind to grapple with. Say a plot of land becomes available, you can get a developer to come in, build something and in return provide a relief road or a park. Job done. But this outcome is not necessarily in the interests of the community where the building is situated, and the community will continue to have the impression that things are done to them rather than with them. Nor is it likely to be a sustainable solution to the requirements of that community.

It’s getting this kind of attitude to change that is perhaps the hardest challenge of all to those of us working to make our cities more sustainable.



From the Good Ideas file: Overview of Downtown Project (at least the northernish part of it)

I’ve been on a bit of a Las Vegas Downtown Project tear lately, in part because it embodies a whole new approach to a lot of the issues I raised in the book.  One of the big challenges with talking about the Downtown Project as a model, though, is that there are a whole hell of a lot of moving parts — even after spending a lot of time talking to people, and re-talking to people, and listening to people, and more and more, I still have a hard time getting my head around everything that’s going on.  That’s in part because it’s not all driven by the organization, as I discussed a little bit in this post at Wise Economy Workshop.

While I was there recently, I had the bright idea of shooting some video of the surroundings.  Of course, I had this bright idea after I was back in my crash pad for the night on the last night before I headed home, so this video is missing a few of the better-known of the Downtown Project components, like the Container Park and the Learning Village.  But I thought there was a significant value in introducing some of the elements that don’t get so much play, and I think it’s powerful to see the relative proximity of the elements.

We underestimate the importance of proximity a lot of times — we often face a huge social and political pressure to spread our investments or our efforts over a very broad area, but in the long term it seems more and more that concentrating those initial efforts on a very small area makes a crucial impact on whether an effort can be sustained.  We need to generate a multiplier effect that goes far beyond the little bit that our organization can invest all by itself, and for reasons that I don’t always completely understand, plain old physical proximity seems to play a big role in determining whether that multiplier kicks in or fizzles out.

That said, here’s the video.  As per usual, I feel the need to apologize for a few dizzying spins and wobbles.  I’m getting better at this, but no Emmys yet.  You’ve been warned.