When your spaghetti grows legs

When your spaghetti grows legs

It’s been quiet. Probably too quiet.

About this time last year, I was charging ahead on the Wise Economy Workshop. Getting a little burned out and wondering if I was making any real progress, but charging ahead, per usual.

Then one of the handfuls of spaghetti that I had been throwing at walls for years grew legs, and I found myself running like crazy to try to catch up with it.

As we come out of the early start-up phase on that, and my partners and I get ready to start scaling up what we’ve constructed, I want ti tie what I have been about for the last….5, 10, 20 years…. to where my primary focus is now. I’ve learned that if you’re going to do anything effective in this world, you have to be ready to change all the time. So the details of this might shift over time. But the core story holds.


I have trying to figure out how to fix local economies for a long, long time. As a kid in Cleveland, I had a front row seat for the first act of the collapse of the industrial way of life, as I watched my father struggle, and ultimately fail, to keep the family paint factory in business as everything around us changed. My first lessons business, inadvertently, revolved around about how businesses and communities inter-depend on each other, and how the strength or weakness of one builds or tears apart the other — as well as the people around them.

As an adult, I’ve spent decades trying to help people who care about their communities figure out how to improve them, remake them, hold them together. I’ve done that in some of the wealthiest and the poorest communities in the nation, using tools that ranged from history to tourism to land use planning to economic development.

And every time, I’ve felt the same frustration in my gut: we’re not fixing the problem.

Tourism programs didn’t create wealthier people.

Downtown streetscapes didn’t lead to full storefronts and sidewalks.

Plans, even when implemented, didn’t lead to communities that worked better.

In 2010, I became an entrepreneur for the second time, with the intention of figuring out how to do…. Whatever that missing piece was. And I stumbled around a lot, and wrote a lot of words, and threw a lot of spaghetti at a lot of walls, trying to find that answer.

I got really good at defining what was wrong. I was not as good at figuring out how to do it right.

Most of the time, I felt like I was stuck inside a box — a box that I knew needed to be opened, but I had spent so long inside it that I could not find the latch.

A couple of years ago, I was introduced to an innovator and intrapreneur who was developing interesting new ways to connect small businesses, university students, and community organizations. His vision was big, grand, and unlike anything I had ever encountered. It created solutions — and value — by lacing together the unmet needs of groups and organizations who did not know they needed each other, and using those connections to give people the tools that they needed to accomplish what they knew, as the ones who knew the place best needed to be done.

After hours upon hours of talking and arguing and coffee-drinking and whiteboard-scribbling, we developed a company designed to carry out that vision — of creating new, needed, important solutions by enabling people across the spectrum to fully capitalize on their own agency and the real powers of a networked, grassroots, local and small business-driven economy.

Right now, Econogy is

-> managing consulting projects where university students design solutions for small businesses,

-> building a training system that helps small businesses owners coach each other to improve their marketing and operations,

-> developing a new systemic approach to building economic and community health in neighborhoods from the core values and hidden assets of the neighborhood, and

-> designing a Well-Being Index that will allow us to build on the assets of disadvantaged neighborhoods, not just obsess over their problems.

It’s been a cyclone of learning, trying, failing, succeeding, new ideas, new solutions, new partners.

It’s been 12-hour days and constant change and the exhaustive work of re-evaluating everything I thought I knew, because sometimes that turns out to be wrong.

It’s also been the best work I think I’ve ever done in my life.

I don’t quite know yet where Wise Economy fits into this. The consulting work is largely moving over to Econogy’s Link and Neighborhood Grow programs, and Wise Fool Press will re-launch under the Econogy name in the next few months. I am still speaking, and I’m returning to writing as a way, if nothing else, to process all of these changes. And I’m looking forward to untangling and describing the new solutions we seem to uncover every day.

I’d love to be able to point you to our website, but we have been so insanely busy that it’s still under construction. When it’s launched, you’ll be able to learn more at econogy.co. And if you find yourself in Cincinnati, you can join us and our revolving cast of students, business wizards, designers, community leaders and others at our new offices in an 1880s brewery in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine. Just let me know.

Thanks for caring, and thanks for doing what you do. I used to sign off my podcast by saying, “Go get ‘em,” meaning “Go out there and keep doing the important things you do,” but I think I’m going to revise that:

Let’s go get ‘em.

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