Thursday, December 22, 2011

December 22, 2011

Below is a column from the Citistates Group, the organization Neal Pierce founded years ago to advance the notion of regions as economic engines from his national platform. Doug Henton, one of our coaches, is a member. As it is so timely for our work, not just in Fresno but in our region and state, I hope you will take a look at it. The lessons learned across the country mirror ours. Economic prosperity and opportunity are a shared responsibility and no one sector can advance them alone. A way to align nontraditional allies is citizenship. When people act as citizens first, single and special interests second, extraordinary things happen.

Nearly every day this week there has been another announcement about Fresno getting a federal grant or philanthropic investment. The SC2 (Strong Cities, Strong Communities) commitment from the federal government to the City of Fresno is paying off. We demonstrated we are investment worthy. Now it’s time for us to prove it with results across all indicators. This will require unity, alignment and relentless discipline. We have one of the critical elements many communities do not have—“a visionary elected public sector leader willing to cross political divides and work with nontraditional allies for the common good”—Mayor Ashley Swearengin. But for her, SC2 would have stayed east of the Mississippi!

Studying Regionalism on a Palatial Estate

What can you learn in two days and two nights at a palatial estate in the Hudson Valley with a room full of smart, experienced regionalists? I’m sure glad I’m in a position to answer. In late October I participated in a symposium on states and regions organized by the Citistates Group. The event was generously hosted by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and supported by the Carnegie Corporation and the William Penn Foundation. Citistates founders Neal Peirce, Curtis Johnson and Farley Peters pulled together this “meeting of the regional minds” to address one central challenge: metropolitan regions are the geography of the economy but not the geography of government.

Along with a couple of chamber leaders, I was joined by representatives from MPOs, COGs, universities, foundations, think tanks, and several former big city mayors. To articulate the professional accomplishments and accolades of this distinguished group of veteran practitioners and thinkers would easily run two hours or more. And it did. Thirty minutes into the introductions my suspicions were confirmed; I was the low man on the totem pole in both credentials and class. I just hoped a few of the collected IQ points might rub off on me.

From Wednesday evening through midday Friday we discussed and debated. What is the best structure to organize regional stakeholders? Can state governments help, or do they need to just get out of the way? Can you expect regional cooperation without a galvanizing crisis? Does the “ism” in regionalism turn people off? Can the Cardinals really come back with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the bottom of the ninth?

Scattered amid the discussion were some fantastic success stories from leaders in the field: Atlanta’s regional regulatory and infrastructure action to quickly solve an acute water crisis, Seattle’s alignment of two major ports and dozens of distinct municipalities to speak with a unified voice on international trade and investment recruitment. Plus Southern California’s multimodal logistics solution to moving goods in and out of the L.A. and Long Beach ports.

At the end of the day I left with renewed confidence in some core convictions about regional cooperation:

• Business leadership is essential to regional action. Business groups are the only entities with political leverage across the multiple jurisdictions that comprise a region.
• The outcome of regional action is far more important than the structure or governance of regional organization. As the Atlanta Chamber’s Sam Williams said, “Results and outcomes equal power and influence.”
• Someone has to provide neutral turf to get suspicious stakeholders together. Whether COG, MPO or chamber, the regional convener role is vital.
The symposium also clarified some new concepts for me:
• Economic competitiveness can be the great unifier for regions. The downturn has compounded our challenges but it has also provided a rallying point for individuals with different political affiliations and groups with different agendas. We will disagree about a lot, but I think we can all agree that jobs, trade and investment are key priorities.
• We’re all the same, but we’re not. There is plenty of head-nodding and “me too” expressions when someone describes the challenges facing her region, but the context is always unique. Orlando is not Cleveland is not San Diego, but they can learn a lot from each other’s experience. That’s why I think detailed stories of success and failure are as important (if not more important) than conceptual models.
• Business can’t do it alone; it needs a strong public sector partner. I’m not talking about public/private partnerships, I mean a visionary elected or appointed public sector leader willing to cross political divides and work with non-traditional allies for the common good. Almost every success story cited mentioned dynamic individual players from the public and private sectors.

I’m not sure I picked up any IQ points from all the big brains in the room, but I did leave the Citistates symposium with a renewed conviction in the important role chambers of commerce must play as regional leaders and conveners.
Ian Scott is vice president for communications and networks of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

December 5, 2011

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Richard Johanson
Does it ever seem weird to you that the marketing frenzy of “Black Friday” is centered around the observance of the upcoming Christian and Jewish religious holidays? Perhaps amid all of this contradictory activity it is appropriate that we take some quiet time to do some personal reflecting. What are the good things that have happened this year? How can we sustain them? Where does our focus need to be next year? Who can lead us? Can we become an Abundant Community with an opportunity for everyone to make a contribution? I see a no better return on a community based investment than renewing our membership in this Business Council and inviting others to join with us. Together with our community partners our destiny is strengthening our ability to make a significant transformation in this place not because of a temporary frenzy but out of a deep commitment to our Statement of Community Values.

A Tribute to Fresno State To Be Published in the Collegian
As we approach midyear in another demonstration of collegiate excellence at California State University, Fresno, it is fitting that we set aside a few minutes to thank all of those on campus who are contributing so much to bringing about a reevaluation in our expectations of ourselves.

Increasingly, we who are oriented to the business world understand that each segment of our society is a critical component of its whole. We must all be willing to reach out to each other. We recognize that community successes do not come from each sector traveling down a selfishly focused road. Organizations such as United Way, Council of Governments, Economic Opportunities Commission, Workforce Investment Board, Fresno State and others are interacting with each other and the private sector in an ever closer spirit of cooperation. For this we all owe a vote of thanks to their unselfish leaders.

Fresno State is a major leader in helping to unite our extended community. Administrators, faculty, staff and students are taking leadership and supportive positions to improve the quality of life for all of those who live, work, play and pray among us. Over sixty-two percent of its student body contributed a total of over one million hours of volunteer service during the schools years 2009/10 and 2010/11.

As a direct result of this spirit of cooperation between Fresno State and the community at large this region is attracting nationwide attention for the higher standards it has set for itself in public affairs on its pathway to a regional transformation. Our community’s widely endorsed Statement of Community Values is the platform on which every man, woman and child among us can stand with pride. Some of these values are: Stewardship, Boundary Crossing and Collaboration, Commitment to Outcomes, Fact Based Decision Making, and Truth Telling.

As the University approaches the second semester of this academic year, we wish to take this opportunity to simply give thanks for its ongoing contribution to the many positive things happening in our community. We thank those at all levels of service that are traveling together on the pathway to a better tomorrow.

Submitted by Bud Richter and Richard Johanson

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 31, 2011

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Richard Johanson
The longer we refine pathways that can strengthen our relationships, the more a single concept unites us in our discussions--Stewardship. This region has become widely known for its perseverance in promoting our innovative Four Spheres Approach to addressing critical issues based upon our statement of community values. Major foundations are becoming increasingly aware of the opportunities available for a more measurable return on their investments by funding public service organizations operating under the banner of Stewardship.Two months from now will see the start of a new year.It is my hope that throughout the community individuals renew their commitment to working together as stewards of the whole—one community aimed at prosperity and wellbeing.

Abundant Communities, Indeed!
When the idea of convening over 800 people from the San Joaquin Valley to spend a day with nationally regarded authors John McKnight and Peter Block, it sounded implausible. Yet, nearly a month before the event—November 16—it was overbooked with over 80 cohorts of 10 people. Participants have agreed to read the book Abundant Communities, develop action plans and put them into action. In 2000, when the Great Valley Center issued a report assessing our challenges, lack of connection, competitiveness and capacity were the key themes. Many rose to the challenge. We developed industry clusters, new platforms for action like the Lyles Center and multiple institutes at Fresno State, two incubators, CART, and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley. We learned how to collaborate and align resources. Our educational partners worked with employers to insure students are prepared for careers and life challenges. Using a shared set of values we have developed relationships horizontally and vertically. We have become a prepared and investment worthy community. Evidence? The White House designated the City of Fresno as a Strong City, Strong Community experiment and last week the James Irvine Foundation committed $3 million dollars to the Fresno Regional Foundation, due to its significant increase in capacity.

Flourish—We Have Found the Solution and It Is Us
When the Mental Health Cluster set out to better understand the challenges in this arena, it didn’t take long to realize many of the solutions could only be found in the community. The Fresno Flourish Initiative is based upon this premise. Research has determined that behavioral change is largely dependent upon personal commitment, role models, peer support and environmental conditions. As upwards of 75% of health conditions are lifestyle related and adherence to prescribed protocols is under 50%, the answer to the health care crisis clearly is not within the industry, it is in us. Flourish is based upon an internal Kaiser Permanente strategy to improve the health and well-being of their employees. Institutions and individuals are stepping up to take the pledge.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 24, 2011

Reflections from the Chair Emeritus—Dick Johanson
As you read what Deborah has written below, I would urge you to mentally put yourself back in a school classroom once again. To me the key word in the entire educational process is “relativity”. Nothing is more boring than staring at a text book preparing for a written test on an academic subject that will be significantly forgotten soon thereafter. However, tying in the subject matter to a future career changes the entire learning process. Then “motivation” comes into play. When a student becomes motivated to learn teachers become partners and an all too common resistance to an academic education falls away. In short, in this person’s opinion, vocational education needs to resume its rightful place with academia in the relativity of our educational structure.

The Innovative University
Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, The Innovator’s Prescription, and Disrupting Class, has co-authored a new book, The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out. As a professor of innovation at Harvard’s Business School, his life work involves deep reflection about critical issues and the seed thoughts that give rise to existing systems and structures. Disruptive innovations are impacting every sector as the pace of change has accelerated and resilience, creativity and adaptability have become essential life skills. Is it possible to embrace change by building upon strengths and letting go of what simply doesn’t work anymore with an eye to minimizing economic dislocation? His latest book speaks to a customized future that meets the needs of a far larger population of students and the diverse communities in which they live. The authors also underscore the importance of shared values to insure a deeper context in which knowledge develops.

Shared Responsibility for Workforce Preparation
Considerable progress has been made at Fresno Unified to prepare career ready graduates. In 2008, FUSD launched a commission on Workforce Readiness and Career Technical Education to determine how to scale and accelerate toward their goal. The report is available at Thanks to the sponsorship of Heald College, there will be two career nights in October to connect students to the pathways and educate their families about them. There are 25 Career Readiness Pathway Programs representing 14 industry sectors offered across Fresno Unified. These programs expand student understanding of the world of work and identify career pathways and specific occupations within them. By working together on economic and human development, we can align strategies to succeed in both. While knowledge workers are essential to a prosperous economy, restoring pathways for craftsman, artisans and technicians of all sorts is equally important. As explained by Michael Crawford, “Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15, 2001

Community Values—A Contract for Behavior in the Civic Sector
At our recent board meeting, Richard Johanson shared his thoughts on one of our community values. This regular practice sets the tone and reminds us our responsibilities as citizens. The value he addressed was Commitment to Outcomes—We are willing to take responsibility for tasks and achieving specified outcomes. We are committed to staying involved until the task is completed. “The other nine values lose some of their importance apart from their connection to their ultimate purpose—a commitment to making better things happen in our own lives and that of our extended community.” As one of the eight founders of the Fresno Business Council, Dick pointed to the journey we have been on from concept to reality. While clearly we continue to face many challenges, the impact is visible. In 1993, concepts like collaboration, sustainability, asset-based approach, and power parity were foreign. We were busy addressing symptoms in siloes and blaming those who today are valued partners in community transformation.

Stewardship & Citizenship Pipelines—Sustainable Civic Infrastructure
A better future is a shared responsibility. Citizens are responsible to the whole and stewards, those with positional authority, are responsible collectively for the whole. Self-reliance and collective action are two major strands of the DNA of American citizens. In order to foster these values, we have a new partnership with Fresno Unified. Student leaders from the various high schools will attend our board meetings to learn about the community business and hear a value presented. They will present what they learned at a school board meeting and back at their site student councils. In reverse, FBC members will have an opportunity to attend student meetings to learn from them and report what they learned to the FBC board. Effective communication runs both ways.

Student Leaders From Cambridge High School Attend FBC Board Meeting
The academic and civic progress at Cambridge High School is inspiring and the sense of community pride in the students and staff palpable. The staff provide holistic services and support, recognizing that many of the students face personal and family barriers making success more challenging. The expected learning results for all students reflect the values of both the students and the staff:
• Problem Solvers (ability to identify and resolve problems)
• Responsible Citizens
• Informed Citizens
• Demonstrators (competence in all academic areas)

Inspiring News from the Fair

Deb Cohen reported that the community came together this week and bringing in 54 tons of food breaking our own national record from last year of 51.7 tons of food. 235 volunteers helped collect, sort and load the semi-trucks. It was hot but there was an amazing show of support. The Fair leadership launched a the first ever 4.0 & Above program where all Fresno County high school students with a 4.0 or better were provided free entrance to the Fair and an enter-to-win ticket for a car and assorted prizes. A junior from Sanger High won the car and her principal told Deb that it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving student. These are terrific examples of how improving academic performance and supporting students is everybody’s business and the power of collective action.

Monday, July 18, 2011

July 18, 2011

Implications of SC2—Smart Cities, Smart Communities
What would it look like if local communities decided what they wanted and came up with the most effective way to make it happen? As every community is unique, a customized approach rather than one size fits all, makes sense. What if adaption to changing circumstances was built into the strategy and the opportunity to align resources of multiple agencies behind one plan became the norm? What if leaders in every sphere—economy, environment and equity (the 3 E’s) understood the priority strategies of their colleagues and worked together effectively? What if the people who work in the various sectors understood interdependence and looked for ways to share resources to achieve the goals everyone wants—prosperity, safe neighborhoods, an educated and engaged citizenry, vibrant health and a widely shared community pride. SC2 offers us these opportunities and more. The choice of engagement is ours. We can act like a spectator and point at government or we can take responsibility as citizens and realize it is merely the reflection of us—fragmented. As a stand-up commented, “Blaming government is like yelling at your computer when the problem is in the software."

Vertical Integration—Bottom Up/Top Down
If you think of the neighborhoods and the federal government as two poles far apart, what would happen if they had direct communication with one another? Rather than going through channels—layer after layer of systems—SC2 offers direct access. As many resources make a stop at the state and the county before reaching communities, it is not surprising so many programs are ineffective and necessary infrastructure is so extensive to build. Triangulation is unhealthy. Direct communication works.

Fresno Is In a Unique Situation
Because of the Obama Administration’s confidence in Mayor Swearengin and the evidence of our ten year effort to build a strong civic infrastructure, we have an opportunity to take a quantum leap forward. Success will impact our community, our region and the state because our many colleagues will learn alongside. Everyone engaged in community transformation wants this experiment to work. It’s up to all of us to learn, figure out how to help, and engage.

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

Reading the same books has been a powerful tool for building teams and communicating. Good to Great, Civic Revolutionaries: Igniting the Passion for Change in America’s Communities, Leave No Child Behind, Reinventing Government and many more….all have influenced our experiment in self-governance. Thanks to the hard work of the Smart Valley Places team, John McKnight and Peter Block will be coming to Fresno in November. McKnight is the inspiration behind our Asset-Based Approach community value and Block has written extensively about stewardship, community and transformational change. I encourage you to read their new book—The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods. It is happening in Fresno. Like Apollo 13, we turned to one another, worked with what we had, and committed ourselves to community transformation. Others are noticing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

"Wicked Messes”—Shifting the Focus From Problems to Possibilities

Last week, the regional leaders who make up the California Stewardship Network met in Sacramento. We have worked together for over a decade to create new approaches to problem solving as complexity and interdependence have increased exponentially. The siloed approaches of the past are ineffective, expensive and often make matters worse. One definition of a “wicked mess is a problem whose solution requires a great number of people to change their mindsets and behavior. Another way to say this is the solution requires transformational change.


  • Education—Shifting from industrial, top down, numbers driven models to life-long learning networks that support the development of creative, critical and tactical thinking skills and their application to real-time problems.

  • Justice—Shifting from a system primarily focused upon enforcement and punishment to restorative approaches and community based solutions.

  • Health—Shifting from symptom relief and high end professionals to an empowering, distributed model focused upon personal responsibility and public health approaches.

  • Human Services—Shifting from siloes of emergency and sustained support to a leveraged system focused upon pathways to self-sufficiency.

California Forward calls this “The Virtuous Cycle. Better education leads to better jobs, which leads to a healthier population, less poverty, less crime and, ultimately, less government. Smart Government would advance the Three Es simultaneously a prosperous economy, a quality environment and community equity.

Opportunity Favors the Prepared

Over a decade ago, Fresnans from all sectors began to look at our challenges through the Three Es. Understanding that the Three Es are interdependent and equally important is just the first step. One must step outside of them (Fourth Sphere) to discover where alignments can be made and resources can be leveraged. Most people do not take this step until they realize they cannot succeed in isolation. The level of complexity inherent in a "wicked mess" is beyond anyone's expertise or experience. This is new territory—we are off the map. Our choice is to learn new leadership skills or witness continuing deterioration. We must combine positional authority and leading without it to craft strategies complete enough to drill deeply into the roots while meeting urgent present needs. Go to for more detailed information and an opportunity to offer your comments.

New Models for Cross-Jurisdiction Collaboration

One of our partners, Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network, commissioned Accenture to do a white paper on cross-jurisdiction collaboration with examples from across the globe. The report is available at

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 6th, 2011

Blue Tech Valley Water Conference—Success!

Thank you to everyone who made this week’s Blue Tech Valley Water Conference a success. The speakers were outstanding. They touched the future and showed us how to get there. The comments below provide multiple perspectives:

I am sitting here at my desk reflecting on what just happened. It happened so fast. What just happened was a GREAT Water Tech Conference...right the Central Valley of California...thanks to you! The Conference drew people from near and far (some speakers flew in from places like India, Singapore and Denmark) to be here with us to talk Water Tech.

In addition to the presence of our local industry leaders such as: Grundfos, Lyle's Construction Group, Lakos, Jain and Netafim, we had companies like Intel, Veolia Water, IBM & Paramount Farms here too. Top Investment Firms, such as Draper, Fisher & Jurvetson, WedBush and Virgin Green Fund and thought leaders from Universities around California (CSUF, UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA & UC Merced) were in attendance. We highlighted innovation and entrepreneurship and showcased some of our star start-ups!”

Kirk Nagamine, CEO--Central Valley Business Incubator.

The Blue Tech Valley Water Conference was a major event for the Central Valley. I often hear complaints that the Valley doesn’t connect with the best and brightest from around the world due to our isolation in the middle of the state. Well for those of us who attended, this was the highest level of brain power ever assembled in one room to deal with the most important issue we are challenged with to secure our economic future…. Water. I give you my highest congratulations for a job well done and recognize the global connections that are now in place to make this region the Blue Tech Valley for the world. Any support we at the EDC can lend to assist the CVBI and ICWT in accomplishing this is at your disposal.” Steve Geil, CEO--Economic Development Corporation.

By all accounts, this was an important and very welcome event and a significant step in our ongoing efforts to become a pre-eminent center for water technology and research. Congratulations.” Dr. Bill Covino, Provost, Fresno State

“Great work! This is a watershed moment (a pun intended).” Professor Tim Stearns, Director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Congratulations to all. I heard good things from everyone who attend on both days.” Mike Dozier, Director of the Office of Community & Economic Development, Fresno State.

Historical Framework

Given the critical role Grundfos and Claude Laval Corporation leaders played in making the conference a success (Grundfos even brought a semi from Texas), it is important to acknowledge the long time role these companies have played since the beginning. The first meeting of the water cluster was held at the old Grundfos facility in 2000. Founding stalwarts like Claude Laval and Jerry Cook were on hand. This was our beta test to determine whether or not clustering—linking, aligning and leveraging existing assets—would substantially impact our economy. Two incubators, many workforce initiatives, cross industry partnerships, joint ventures, new capital, etc., demonstrate that perseverance pays off in compounding ways if you have the courage to begin and the commitment to continue. Thank you to Collaborative Economics—our catalyst.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011

“Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction”
Such is the tagline from Rebecca Costa’s new book, The Watchman’s Rattle. While Einstein taught us that we can’t solve problems at the level of thinking that created them, he didn’t spell out how to change the level.

Past civilizations (Mayan, Khmer, Roman) came to a point where complexity exceeded their cognitive capacity. Rather than drill deep, they looked for quick fixes and reacted to symptoms. This allowed underlying conditions to worsen. Gridlock and ultimately collapse occurred. The good news—Costa offers a path up and out.

The Brain
Discoveries in neuroscience are as dramatic as learning the world is not flat. People think in linear, holistic and insightful ways. When insightful breakthroughs reach critical mass, systems and economies can be completely disrupted and cultural norms reset. Given the dire circumstances we face, our choice is to cheer the insightful on or continue to watch linear vested interests battle.

Dean Kamen—Inventor Extraordinaire
When Dean Kamen spoke in Fresno, he changed attitudes. He put wind into the sails of innovators and entrepreneurs. In Costa’s book Kamen explains we know the problems and the answers. We are stuck because the culture is mired in old thinking—widely accepted beliefs that simply are not true. These are called memes. Family memes help us feel connected. Supermemes--beliefs that go viral--can contaminate a culture. While “knowing” can relieve anxiety in the moment, worsening conditions kick up stress notch after notch until a breakdown occurs.

Five Supermemes Holding Us Hostage
1.Irrational Opposition—Being against everything and for nothing.
2.The Personalization of Blame—Father should have known best & controlled all the variables. Holding individuals accountable for systemic and cultural problems.
3.Counterfeit Correlation—accepting correlation as a substitute for causation; spinning to manipulate evidence and relying on consensus to determine basic facts.
4.Silo Thinking—compartmentalized thinking and behaviors that prohibit the collaboration needed to address highly complex problems.
5.Extreme Economics—using simple business principles (profit/loss; risk/reward) as the litmus test for determining the value of people and priorities, initiatives and institutions—the legacy of the industrial revolution.

Our community discovered an antidote like Costa details in her book—a Four Spheres Framework, Community Values, Focused Blitzkrieg (do many things simultaneously) foster innovation and entrepreneurship, listen to the quantum level thinkers, and persevere until what once sounded foreign becomes normal.

The Book

The book is riveting and instructive. The snippets above are just a taste of her thinking. I encourage you read it. Another option, check out her website at

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12, 2011

Economic Development Meets Human Development—Website for Internships
Through partnerships across our educational institutions, there is already a database to connect internship coordinators across the entire system. However:

The Problem

• San Joaquin Valley has a low-skilled worker population.
• Lack of professional development opportunities for young professionals.
The Cause
• Businesses are reluctant to develop internship programs.
• No single resource for businesses to connect with Valley colleges/universities and students for internships, career fairs, facility tours, service learning projects, etc.
The Solution
Develop a self-sustaining, integrated website with the following utility:
o Post internship positions at one location. Students may search and apply directly online.
o Connect businesses to the “right” person at education entities, specifically aligning to their internship needs.
o Internship toolkit--develop an effective internship program; paid v. unpaid internships; resume evaluation; interview questions.
o Promote career fairs.
o Wish list- students may submit what they are looking for and we can help them get connected.
The Benefits for Businesses
• Access to the up and coming “crème of the crop.”
• One source to post internship positions, connect with internship coordinators at colleges/universities.
• Understand the skills of the next generation of workers.
• Provide feedback to the colleges/universities regarding gaps in skills/training, work ethic, and other curriculum suggestions.
• Actively participate in increasing our higher education system and grow our skilled workforce.
The Request—Community Support
To launch, the project needs 10 sponsorships at $500. They are tax deductible. For more information contact Jen Paul at 559.347.3908 or Thank you to the FBC board members that wrote at check at this morning’s board meeting! This is a highly leveraged, highly impactful strategy to connect two groups that want to meet—they just need onramps and a platform.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 21, 2011

California’s Innovation Initiative—Innovate to Innovation (i2i)
In 2010, legislators from both parties tasked the CA Council on Science and Technology to assess our state’s innovation ecosystem. The ecosystem approach acknowledges that like other critical issues, the challenge is complex, interdependent and solutions will require steward leadership of the whole. No one alone has domain over all the essential parts nor the expertise needed to craft a successful strategy. As new funding is unlikely, the solution is “barn raising”—reallocation of existing resources, philanthropic funding and contributions of time and talent. Collaboration is “changing in place” by shifting the mindset from siloes to shared outcomes.

The action team is a “first bus” of high level talent from industry, academia and government that will develop an Innovation Roadmap and Improve Critical Innovation Infrastructure.

The Roadmap will include:

1. Rapid application of research to use through policy and system changes, multi-sector financing and cross sectoral communications networks.

2. Create communities of collaboration—co-locate federal, state, private and technology assets—idea pressure cookers—to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, knowledge transfer and job creation.

The Infrastructure Improvements will include:

1. An educator alliance to fund, develop and deploy effective K-16 digitally enhanced education enabling personal customization and preparation of a globally competitive workforce.

2. Create a science and technology-based water road map to innovate across the entire water system, link water and energy technology, ag and biotech, and climate and conservation strategies. What It Means For Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley—Opportunity! For the past decade, our community and region have been building relationships across sectors, disciplines and geographies. The Regional Jobs Initiative, Human Investment Initiative, Smart Cities and the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley are all comprehensive approaches that are led by stewards of the whole. They create the essential “CEO function” needed to link, align and leverage assets from many places to achieve major outcomes.

The Lyles Center, the WET Incubator, the Central Valley Business Incubator, CART, K-12’s increasing focus on career and technical education are all assets we can assemble. All local school districts and our universities have embraced a unified approach called Strive, a Cincinnati created approach to education that Stanford research has determined holds great promise. Rising above collaboration, the effort creates a leadership team, “white space leaders and staff” who are responsible for linking, aligning and leveraging the assets of many players to achieve specific outcomes.

#2 on infrastructure is readymade for our region—the WET Incubator, the Water Technology Cluster, agriculture as a major industry, a growing international reputation—preparation meets opportunity = success. Check out the Blue Tech Valley Water Conference at theme is International Solutions to Regional Issues. Save the date—May 3 and 4th.

Monday, March 14, 2011

March 7, 2011

White Space Leadership—Key to Transformational Change
As Californians and residents in other states continue to grapple with fiscal constraints, enormous challenges and faltering institutions, the importance of focusing on the opportunity side cannot be overemphasized. The postindustrial perspective, one that recognizes the importance of customization, innovation and interdependence, needs to find its way into every sector if we are to capitalize on the opportunities of the 21st century. As always, pioneers went out early, signaling the way yet the crisis wasn’t stark enough to get enough people’s attention, particularly those that succeeded in the hierarchical framework. Times have changed.

In 1997, national leaders in the movement toward regional solutions, Neil Pierce and Curtis Johnson, and their inspiration—John W. Gardner—wrote a book to capture lessons learned across the country. They titled it Boundary Crossers: Community Leadership for a Global Age. In Fresno, we have learned many of the same lessons. A book can explain a concept, but you don’t “know” it until you live it. As the rhetoric of the poles gets uglier and louder, it’s important to remember we are all citizens first—responsible to the whole. A self-absorbed, single interest’s agenda is “more for me” typically without regard to the impact on the whole. Think of a cancer cell or a suicidal personality within someone suffering from a dissociative disorder. This is why steward leadership of the whole—white space leadership-- is essential to charting the path forward. This is the level of thinking Einstein spoke of—higher than the level of thinking that created the problem.

Lesson 8 is particularly timely. In the forward to the book, John Gardner explained, “What we need, and what seems to be emerging in some of our communities, is something new—networks of responsibility drawn from all segments, coming together to create a wholeness that incorporates diversity. The participants are at home with change and exhibit a measure of shared values, a sense of mutual obligation and trust. Above all, they have a sense of responsibility for the future of the whole city and region.”

Lesson 8: Government always needs reforming, but all the reforms need government.
“Ever since Revolutionary times, we Americans have distrusted and consistently disparaged government. But our healthy skepticism has turned into dangerous cynicism that makes it difficult for our government to play an effective role in the new global economy. If we shackle government, starve it for truly needed funds, we may get just what we deserve—government mired in the management methods of 20th century. Since government is at least 15 to 20 percent of any local economy, the entire economy is then shackled and pulled down. It is a fact that no matter how much business or philanthropies or other civic forces seek to lead, at the end of the day government is needed almost invariably, as a partner at the table. Any major undertaking runs up against rules, regulations, funding priorities, land use plans or some other domain of government. Local government is needed as a funding partner in major enterprises. It is needed to provide quality services, especially in poor and struggling neighborhoods, and to start the tough task of tying social services for families to school programs in a time of serious family breakdown. It is needed to protect the air and water, and to assure environmental equity to low-income neighborhoods often the scene of landfills and toxic dumping. In addition, a community that tries to operate independently of government may easily find itself paralyzed when it tries to work collaboratively.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

February 21, 2011

Devolution—the Opportunities and the Pitfalls
Governor Brown and others are discussing devolution—the pooling of powers (and hopefully resources) from central government to the regional or local level. Many believe that government closer to the people will be more efficient, effective and accountable as it will be easier to draw a line between efforts and outcomes. The less one is embodied in the community one is elected to serve, the more likely single interests and personal ambition can distract from the original mission. This leads to government spending--addressing symptoms and building bureaucracies-- rather than investing where there will be a return--infrastructure, education, etc. Today many communities are mirror images of the state and federal government—fragmented, symptom focused and competing over scarce resources and credit. Fresno’s evolution has prepared us for devolution.

We have learned a lot over the past decade about the importance of shared values, strategies and a commitment to outcomes. Overcoming the legacy of siloed thinking and funding in the government and nonprofit sectors has become more urgent with the prospect of devolution. The Four Sphere Approach, dubbed the new civic DNA of California, offers a steward’s view of the whole where opportunities to leverage resources become clear and we all share in success. To learn more about how this works, attend a workshop. Our next one is slated for next week. Let us know if you plan to attend or would like to have a presentation for your organization.