In the Workshop

This page is for me and the Experts Network to “park” ideas for new projects or products, issues that we’d like feedback on, cool stuff that we don’t know what to do with yet, etc.  At the moment it’s pretty tidy, but — just based on what my house usually looks like — it probably won’t stay that way for long.  Check back here for stuff that’s interesting, fascinating… and occasionally weird.  What else is a workshop for?


Moving Local Government innovation from the Skunkworks to Center Stage

But when you look closely, you find that many of these [local government innovations] happen in spite of the prevailing culture. Savvy bureaucrats find clever ways to reach across organizational silos to make things happen. They scrape together private funds to launch a pilot. Or they leverage a crisis – and the self-examination these moments can create – to advance new thinking.

While that’s good, it’s clear that relying on opportunism, bureaucratic heroism, and luck to drive the innovation agenda isn’t good enough. There’s too much at stake. Cities today are being called on to do more with less – and these trends will likely accelerate.


This essay does an excellent job of pin pointing the great problem facing community innovators today.  Thousands of dedicated people in large and small communities worldwide are making Herculean efforts to transform their communities– often from the inside, often with minimal or shallow support, often in a context of bureaucracy out politics or just a sort of cultural inertia that makes a seemingly simple improvement a test of determination.  And as they keep striving, in many, many places, the vise continues to tighten.

In the business world, many of the most successful corporations have been documented to work innovation, not just as a covert activity done in some hidden skunkworks, but as a consistent part of how work, from top to bottom, gets done.  I suspect that awareness underlies this assessment:

 Innovation, here, isn’t some mystical process. It requires neither rocket science nor light bulb moments. Instead it’s about a set of sequential steps and techniques that, when implemented with fidelity, help city halls come up with better ideas more often. It’s about increasing the hit rate for innovation – while recognizing that some degree of failure is inevitable (and important).

I think this is the great challenge, the deep need that faces us over the next 10 years:

We’ve actually gotten pretty good at inventing cool new little programs, at Doing Something Neat, even when (or maybe sometimes because of) local government systems that stifle more than support.

But it’s not enough.

We have to figure out how to come up with–and carry through on- better ideas more often.  We have to increase local governments’ hit rate for innovation, or we’re not going to be able to meet our communities’s needs.

I know everyone is tight on budgets and time, but so are your private sector neighbors.  So how do they do it? How do we translate those processes to local government?

What do you think?


Taxonomy of How Communities Respond to Major Employment Loss

I got this from my good friend Peter Mallow the other day:



See attached diagram showing the three typologies of a community’s responses to a major employer leaving town.
Option 1 – is the successful re-invention of a community
Option 2 – is a gradual bounce back, basically replacing what was lost with like jobs
Option 3 – is gradual and continued decline…
I have many more thoughts surrounding what this means, but at this point, I am just interested exposing the idea in rawest form and seeing how people react…

Here’s the diagram he attached.  Can you tell he’s been hanging out with the economists?

Chart illustrating theory of how communities respond to major employer loss
Peter Mallow’s taxonomy of how communities respond to major employer loss






What do you think?  Is Pete on the right track?  Do you know of any other basic type of response?

I told him that the curve for bouncing back on the first version he sent me was too steep — my sense would be that the “bouncing back” takes a long time, longer than most people realize that it will.  He modified it to this.

Obviously, this doesn’t answer the question of “why,” but that’s not what a taxonomy is for — think classifications of species of animals.  You have to have the classification system in place before you can start investigating why different animals evolved different ways.    But this classification framework starts to get at one of my biggest unanswered questions:


Why do some places bounce back from disasters, and some don’t?  What makes the difference?

No magic answer here, but it’s a baby step in that direction.  Let me know what you think.






 Stuff I don’t know anything about: Auto -What?

This first thing is a piece of text that I received over a year ago on LinkedIn from John Watkins in response to a blog post on thinking about communities as ecosystems — a way to get out of the dangerous rut of treating the elements of a community like separate widgets. The point was that we need to act consciously on our intuitive understanding that the impacts that one issue (like, for example, parks) has on another seemingly unrelated issue (like, for example, quality of jobs) are probably as important or more than dealing with the issue by itself.

Not like that wasn’t a convoluted sentence there to begin with….

John obviously understands ecological stuff way better than my high school biology credit allows me to, and he wrote a response that I clipped and put in my draft blog folder — hoping that someday I’d actually understand what he was talking about.  Here’s the clipping:

A wise economy must be based on concepts of ecological sustainability, and by that I don’t just mean green technology. I mean principles that can be taken from the study of resilient ecosystems: redundancy, flexibility, slack resources, multiple mutual causal networked relationships, autopoiesis, etc. Few human built systems act that way. And in addition, in human based systems, there is also the need to address the challenge that causality is dampened or exaggerated by interpretation, assumptions, cultural lenses, that is, the responding agent, as a human or a human system, actually is more often than not responding based on already determined patterns, to whatever energy is impinging on the system, in a kind of equifinality. I guess that is the same as autopoiesis, but certainly not of a self-aware and reflective kind. Wise economies are democratic, adaptive, and values-driven, deeply and organically connected to their communities. They are evolving, modeled on biodiverse ecosystems,designed for learning, health, resilience, and accomplishment. They recognize that they are embedded in communities and ecosystems, not abstracted and held at arms’ length from connection with others and the natural world.


I think there is something very useful for all of us in here, but…. I have to admit, I was a little reluctant to say “Um, yeah…auto-what?”

Especially in front of millions (ok, probably a couple dozen) LinkedIn readers.    I don’t often feel completely outgunned, but I think I am on this one.

Anyone want to help fill me in?  Anyone working on applying this kind of thinking to human organizations?

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