Archive for January, 2012


January 30, 2012

Innovation – like the” iPad”, you know it when you can hold in your hand but like “beauty”, don’t ask what it is or how to make it happen.

For economic developer practitioners and those who fancy themselves as entrepreneurship facilitators, innovation is important.  It’s economic gardening – the current government mantra for job creation as a means to reduce unemployment by creating high-wage jobs to improve household wealth.

Go to any bookstore business section and you will find more than a dozen titles, all telling their story on how you and your company or organization needs innovation to compete in the global economy and, by the way create jobs.

But more importantly, to the economic developer practitioner, is can we identify how to innovate and how do I get innovation to happen in my community.

This is where “THE INNOVATOR’S DNA – MASTERING THE FIVE SKILLS OF DISRUPTIVE INNOVATORS” will help.  Authors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Claton M. Christensen explain skills that can cause innovation to happen.

With the notion that we can identify personal behavior skills that cause innovation, we can then apply them in a directed pathway increasing the opportunity to identify new products and services resulting in business investment and new jobs.

Let’s examine each of the skills and how economic developers may wish to apply them.

But first, we have to agree on a basic principal – innovators think differently and act differently….creating a curiosity that results in changed behaviors.

The good news, according to the authors, is if we change our behaviors we can improve our “creative curiosity” and creative impact.


Now that’s a powerful statement one that can be used to develop a community program to stimulate business innovation resulting in new business investment and jobs.

This is great news to economic developers seeking to create innovative communities.

If “two-thirds of our innovation skills come through learning – from first understanding the skill, then practicing it and ultimately gaining confidence in our ability to create”, than innovation can be taught on a communitywide basis leading to greater innovation and increased business investment resulting more and better paying jobs.

The behavioral traits –

 1. Questioning

Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquire frequently challenging the status quo.  They show a high Q/A ratio where questions (Q) out number answers (A) in a typical conversation.

 2. Observing

Innovators are intense observers – the world around them, customer behavior, new technologies, and new products and services.  These observations provide them insights into new ideas on how to do things.

 3. Networking

Innovators spend time testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals of varied backgrounds and perspectives.  They tend to seek out comments and reactions from a wide group of people that, at times, may have radically different viewpoints.

 4. Experimenting

Innovators are not just “thinkers” but actually try-out new ideas.  They test hypotheses and seek new information and continue to experiment to learn new things.  They hold that questioning, observing, networking and experimenting are discovery skills that together identify new ideas.

 5. Associational thinking

Innovators routinely see the essential features of an idea and make surprising connections across areas of knowledge – connecting the unconnected knowledge producing innovative business ideas.  Successful innovators are always “on the hunt” for new associations that will create combinations of diverse knowledge, experience and personal perspectives

 6. Challenge the status quo

Innovators believe in economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of “creative destruction” and thus actively challenge the status quo. Schumpeter popularized in the 1950, the theory of challenging the status quo reformulating conventional thinking by associating existing and new knowledge and technology thus creating economic innovation.  Innovators are unafraid or inhibited in rebuffing “the notion – because we did it that way in the past, we’ll do it that way in the future”.  They see “many things broken and want to fix them”.

 7. Taking risks

Innovators are “risk takers” unafraid of failure and actually promote failure a part of the process of experimenting to achieve success.  They feel personally responsible for “coming-up” with ideas and innovation solutions.

A Last Thought on Innovation and the Practice of Economic Development

Innovation begins with you.  You can change your behavior to become more innovative.

For the economic practitioner this is good news.

By asking yourself some simple questions such as, am I good at generating ideas, can I find  and “friend” innovative people, can I get myself and colleagues to “think outside the box” you too, can begin the process of being a better innovator.

If you find yourself struggling with “frank and honest “answers cheer-up, the authors state you can change your behavior and become more creative. 

This also holds true for economic development organizations which many economic development practitioners staff on a daily basis. 

As stated earlier, if two-thirds of innovation skills come through better understanding of behavioral traits that inspire innovation, this knowledge coupled with a program to incorporate change should result in new innovative ideas fostering economic development success.

The challenge before the economic development practitioner is not more business subsidies, tax forgiveness or other business aid but changing the communitywide behavior of individuals to become more innovative thus producing innovative business ideas resulting in new business investment and jobs.



January 22, 2012

Downtown development in 2012 will focus on the customer.

Downtown planners and economic developers must face the fact that customers generate the need for the downtown business and therefore create business investment and jobs.

So to better prepare to serve customers in 2012 let’s ask ourselves a few questions about how our collective downtown business community currently serves and treats our customers.

  1. Who are our customers?

Are our customers close-by residents, “out-of-towners” shopping on their journey to (or from) work, or are they visitors to our downtown?  What is the age of our shoppers and what’s their income?

  1. How do are our customers become aware of the products and services we provide?

How do we communicate with our customers – newspapers, radio, direct mail, billboards, email, web presence, cell phone App?  Do we know which of these brings a shopper into our downtown?

  1. How do our customers really use our goods and products?

Do our shoppers make purchases for on-site consumption or to take home for daily household or occasional use? Are our shoppers making purchases for gifts or other purposes?

  1. What does the customer ultimately consider the most important feature of the products or services we provide?

Why do our customers shop in our downtown – convenience, product and services availability, or their shopping experience?

  1. How do are our customers order and purchase our products and services – can we make the purchase decision easier, more convenient or less costly?

Can a customer schedule a shopping visit with specific stores?  Can I order “on-line” or “over the phone”?  Can I internet order “on-line and pick up”?

  1. How do our customers pay for our products and services – can we make it easier or more convenient?

Do our business offer credit/debit card, lay-away, and cash discounts?  Do we make home deliveries?

  1. What frustrations do our customers have when shopping for products and services we offer?

Do our store hours match the needs of the customers? Is there street furniture for shopper to “rest a while”? Is parking convenient and close-by? Can I lock my bike if I ride downtown to shop?

  1. Do customers need assistance when purchasing our products and services?

Can the customer find the products and services they seek – finding the store in the downtown and when in the store, the sought-after product?

  1. Do customers do things that hurt our downtown shopping experience?

What do customers complain about, parking, trash, snow on sidewalks, congestion – traffic, sidewalks & store aisles, a lack of products or services?

  1.  How may first-time customers become repeat customers?

Do we know how many repeat customers frequent the downtown and how often they shop downtown?  Where do the repeat customers live?  Do we take special notice of the repeat customer?

Customers today have many choices and with newer cell phone “App” technology “on-site” comparison shopping availability with other “brick and mortar” and “web based” stores.

While downtowns face increased competition in 2012, honest answers to these questions will lead to a better understanding of customers and the job they expect from downtown businesses.

Successful downtown developers will take into consideration this information and implement changes for greater success in 2012.



January 16, 2012

Having spent my career in Michigan, I naturally think of Henry Ford as a “car guy”, the man who took a new invention and created an industrial system to bring motorized transit to the masses.

Ford’s legacy is a “car guy” – but he also experimented with town planning necessitated by the need to transport from remote locations coal, wood, and metal natural resources required for the making of automobiles.

Fordlandia chronicles his efforts to tame 75 miles of Amazon jungle necessary to provide rubber for auto production.

The need for a new town came along with this effort, the common infrastructures of potable water, waste water removal, trash disposal, electricity, and transportation plus worker housing, and their medical, social, religious and educational needs.

Ford, closer to home, undertook similar town planning efforts in Michigan with L’Anse, Alberta, Pequaming, and Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula all sharing a Ford company town legacy.

It’s interesting to me, having studied Urban & Regional Planning in the 1970’s new town Park Forest South next door to the post WWI new town Park Forest (Illinois) to compare new town planning with today’s contemporary planning theories.  My familiarity with the Park Forests provides a background to identify similarities between 1920’s, 40’s and 70’s new town planning theory with current smart growth, traditional neighborhood design, higher density transit orientated development, walkable community and cool cities planning theory promoted today.

In general, I’d say we didn’t learn much from the 1920’s, 40’s and 70’s new town experiments but rather repackaged some fundamental truths about new towns for the community development theory of today.

Here are some basic facts:


Whether you walk, bike, drive a car, taxi, take mass transit or work from home, proximity to a job (or other form of income) decides where you live.

Town planning first must consider jobs and how workers journey to and from work, in order to function.  This is why Ford, Pullman and other industrialist chose to invest in town infrastructures and worker housing necessary to gather together the workforce in close proximity to make their business function profitability.

Ford recognized that transportation, not only product transport from remote locations but the worker journey to work trip, would shape worker attitudes towards uprooting families and moving to remote locations for employment.


Land use planning originated as a health and safety need in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  US new towns were invented as a means to move people from the squalor of “big city” slums and tenements into planned communities free of disease and crime where dwelling units had safe drinking water and waste was properly disposed promoting a healthy living environment.

Because of the cost and complexity of installation of public infrastructure to support public health and safety in remote locations, companies such as Ford accepted the provision of infrastructure as being their responsibility and a “cost of doing business” costs which were ultimately passed on to the purchaser of a Ford automobile.

Ford realized that success in attracting a workforce to move natural resources from remote locations to his auto plants would require Ford to be the town planner, town developer and serve as the traditional governmental administrator.


Today, “cool cities and vibrant 24 hour-downtowns” are essential to attract, especially young-aged workers to cities with governments promoting walkable communities “placed based” attraction strategies.

Ford also recognized these same needs.  Ford is quoted saying about Fordlandia, “There will be schools, experiment stations, canteens, stores, amusement parks, cinemas, athletic sports, hospitals, etc. for the confort and happiness of those who work on the plantation.”


In similar fashion, to “round out” the full needs of a new town, provision must be made for a number of services, on- site or within easy communing distance.

Ford recognized this and using his relationship with the Dearborn Michigan Ford hospital had ability to draw upon medical professionals to fill a portion of the community needs, as an example.


The industrial benefactor new town movement was inspired, for the most part the by the need to capture a workforce in close proximity to jobs with the benevolent benefit being a community lifestyle unmatched in another location. 

Government sponsored experiments were somewhat similar, the opportunity to provide the unmatched community lifestyle to attract workers with industry moving to the community to secure its workforce.

Industrial benefactor release of governance was not clearly communicated nor supported in the industrial new town planning era.  The lack of industrial release of governance was the cause of many of the failures of industrial new town plans.

Governmental benefactor release was a bit more assured as the developers of new towns were required by regulation and planning theory to include more resident involvement and eventual formation of a government structure.  However, insufficient funding and a host of other problems lead to the demise of the government supported new town development era.

Ford, in beginning was silent in the social navigation of a form of governance favoring a more dictatorial doctrinaire expounding on his theory of personal and community behavior.


Smart Growth, the planning mantra of the 1990’s always amuses me. 

I queried one of my professors during a presentation about smart growth in 1994 asking him if the planning theory he taught in 1974 was “dumb growth”.

While it got an audience chuckle, it raises an interesting question.

We studied in our environmental planning educational program, as the Park Forest South planners prepared land use plans, the importance of a centralized commercial location within walking distance to most housing, the importance of mass transit to remote “big-city” high-paying jobs, need for close-by quick journey to work trip employment, adequate infrastructures for a healthful environment, need for environment & open space protection, importance of social and recreation facilities, the role of close-by walking accessible education and a system of resident involvement governance.

Time has proven that Ford in the mid-1920 was wrong in declaring the “crowded metropolis doomed, crumbling under the weight of traffic, pollution, vice, and the cost of policing the great mass of people”. 

However, his belief that the “key to creating loyal, more efficient workers was to help them find “comfort and happiness – fulfillment outside the factory” holds relevance today and still serves as a foundation of contemporary community planning theory.

Today, planning theorists like Florida, Duany, Glaeser, and Leinberger expound on the same principal of worker comfort, happiness and fulfillment but geographically located in central cities as the contemporary foundation of urban social reform and community betterment planning.

I happen to agree but I cannot help reach back into history to find many similarities with the new town planning concepts originated during the private sector industrial new town era, the 1940’s returning WWII veterans new town “housing boom” era and the  1970’s HUD funded “anti-sprawl” new town movement.

They say history repeats itself or “what goes around – comes around”.

Much of the todays new “planner speak“ is nothing more than repackaged sound planning principles tested and proven over time.

The new buzz words – smart growth, place based planning, sustainability and the like are not new ideas but rather a call for action to meet contemporary problems with sound time proven planning principles.

Guys like Ford and Pullman had it right and while private sector industrial new town development may not be favored today, much can be learned as we seek to reinvent cities with “fulfilled workers” anxious to live and work new town environments  being created in our cities.