Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Is Godot Among Us?

From what we’ve been able to decipher, we’re excited by the catalyst activity currently being done at NorTech. The tech-based economic development agency for NEO is taking leadership and stirring dialogue on fundamental questions, some of which we’ve asked in previous postings.

Our region’s conservative culture is a blessing and a curse. It offers stability and predictability, but unfortunately it also closes out many opportunities as a result of inherent risks. This region and its leaders have a horrible record and long history of risk aversion.

Methods exist for hedging these risks, however. Scenario planning, which NorTech is now advocating, is a proven method. It helped Royal/Dutch_Shell in the 1970s when OPEC was manipulating oil markets, and it continues to deliver growth for the mammoth energy company.

Beyond a hedge, the most powerful benefit of scenario planning is how it helps diverse and disparate groups to cull a shared vision. They each then have mutual ownership of this vision and are inspired to take actions to fulfill it. Better yet, it gives clarity to decision making and hence reduces risk.

These actions help groups to focus resources and act collectively, as well as discourage self-serving behaviors that threaten any vision. And these actions attract like actions, bringing opportunities to the region that our leaders couldn’t have predicted. That’s dynamic strategy. Last, like the invisible hand that directs any free market, the products of scenario planning can inspire group accountability and self-policing

Walt Disney said it best, "If you can dream it, you can do it." His words ring as true today as these did many years ago when first displayed above the Epcot Center. The importance of a vision cannot be denied. Neither can the importance of communicating that vision to the people responsible for supporting it. Communicating vision gives purpose and meaning to the work that people do, and pursuing and accomplishing that vision with a sense of integrity builds trust. The speed of transactions and investments in any regional economy are dictated by the level of trust that exists among its members.

We’re pleased that NorTech is building trust by asking the tough questions and making the results visible to others in the region; we believe it’s a window to a shared vision and greater trust among regional players. However, we remind NorTech to beware of its wishes. Now that it has put itself on the stage, NEO citizens will expect it to answer the tough questions, make difficult decisions and provide needed leadership.

Now we ask, is Godot among us?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

NEO’s Comparative Advantage?

What is it that NEO does better than most? We’re not just talking among regions in Ohio or the U.S., we mean globally. Cool Cleveland.com’s festival of the arts and technology is begging this question. Heck, we’ve pondered it before too.

First, we must agree on what comparative advantage means. An old joke, as often retold by B-W’s Peter_Rea, can help illustrate: In European heaven the Swiss are the diplomats, Germans are engineers, French are cooks, Italians are lovers and English are the police. Conversely, European hell is where the Swiss are the lovers, French are the diplomats, Germans are the police, Italians are engineers and the English are the cooks.

Peter will say that exceptions to these characterizations exist, yet there’s more than a grain of truth to the comparative advantages of Swiss chocolate, French wine, German beer, Italian pasta, and English deserts.

Knowing that virtually every business in every industry now competes in global markets, in some respect, what’s NEO’s comparative advantage? Akron once had rubber, Pittsburgh had steel and Detroit had automotive. No more. As the Ingenuity festival reminds us, NEO needs to embrace a more sustainable industry like the arts and marry it with technology to give life to innovation, to give life to a comparative advantage

Once our comparative advantage is identified and commitments made, our region’s economic development resources must be focused in the same way. We’re encouraged by the Ingenuity festival; we hope it serves as a springboard to future dialogue, which we also hope gives our region’s appointed leaders the backbone needed to commit resources with focus.