Q & A with Josh McManus: What's next for cities?
Josh McManus will speak and emcee the SiX event on What's next for Pittsburgh?
on Monday, September 24th
at the New Hazlett Theatre. As founder of Little Big Things, an innovation lab, Josh has gained a national reputation for his transformative work in cities. Register here
for the event and read more about Josh:
Social innovation has been defined as innovation that is both good for society while enhancing society’s capacity to act. How would you define it?
Social innovation is complex and it's loaded and I kept boiling it down: why are we trying to innovate? Why are we trying to save the environment? Why are we trying to fix our neighborhoods? The end game is a more durable humanity. A deep, deep human response to the pursuit of those things we want.
You once said that it would pay off to pay people to just make connections day in and day out. Why is it so important for smart, talented people to make connections?
We live in an information-prolific society and we have not yet created the adaptation of systems that weave potential together. In absence of those systems, the best system we have is the human mind so the individual can create value by actualizing potential.
So let's say a foundation paid 12 people within a city just to make good connections.
They would have to give them a context instead of connections for connection's sake. If they were to connect around a problem, over time you could see a multi-fold return on investment simply from that activity. I can back that up because I've paid people to do it.
Sheldon Grizzle, a failed entrepreneur, started working for me for $12 an hour. I challenged him to help prepare a system to help him be successful. The only way to create value was connectivity; he started connecting people with problems and then people with problems to existing resources which they used in different ways.
And the result?
It's still ongoing and it's called Company Lab, which has within it a startup curriculum, and a 100-day accelerator curriculum. They just finished a high-tech incubation system called the Think Tank and it's now the epicenter of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Chattanooga.
Sheldon is the founder and has an outreach director that handles outlying counties because the state made it a model.
So let's say smart people connect. How can they best work together in a truly collaborative way?
The big rule is we have to be working on a transcendent problem. It has to matter to you, it has to matter to me. If we have that going on, the other rules start to shake themselves out. There are two requests at the table: be helpful and be hopeful.
Many cities have various talent attraction initiatives or are looking to get one in place. What distinguishes the best and why? What proves their value?
What proves their value is time and patience. Talent attraction and retention is a 20 to 25-year play. The real test of my work won't form for some time. In the short term, I try to find measurements that make sense.
When I see a 60-year old white male with a degree in communications trying to attract a 25-year-old multi-ethnic, highly skilled engineer, I can guarantee you that's a program that won't work. There has to be a depth of authenticity. People respond to a place seeing other people who look and sound like them.
Why wouldn't funders be better off supporting economic growth efforts that create jobs so that young talent can find jobs?
Because there are plenty of places that have good jobs available that young talent isn't going to. You can create all the jobs you want. If you don't have a place that people want to live it doesn't matter.
I was talking to friends about Austin. They've got Dell and IT and these anchor institutions there but I have never met anyone my age who ever said, "I really considered that Dell was there." But they would
say, "they have a donut with bacon on it and they have a kickass music festival and I had the time of my life there one weekend."
Portland is a good example. They keep pouring in and there are no jobs for them.
Portland and Austin are good examples of very happening cities. From your own work, what do you see in other cities that might replace them eventually?
The other Portland – Portland, Maine--is a sleeper candidate. Portland, Maine has created an incredible food culture, one of the 5 top foodie cities in America. Those cultural aspects birth this.
Where I come from, Chattanooga is starting to show up on most of the lists. Other places I've had interaction where I see this is Greenville, South Carolina. Pittsburgh is doing incredibly well and Cincinnati is positioned incredibly well.
I've spent a lot of time in Detroit and people who were in New York in the 70s say that's what Detroit is like now. I can't speak for the west coast.
In light of our upcoming event where you are speaking, what headline would you like to see in the year 2015?
I would like to see "a new generation of mayors leads the hundred largest cities into the future."
I think mayors are the most important things in the country right now. For the average citizen, most of the major quality of life issues--healthcare and retirement—the Federal stuff has locked up at the moment. The people who have the biggest ability to impact day-to-day quality of life are mayors. The mayor drives yours perception of living well or not living well.
What's next for cities? As more people get in tune with smart ideas and policies we need to get in place, what's on the horizon 10 years from now?
One of two things. Either the proliferation of intergenerational knowledge transfer or the crisis of leadership because of the exodus of baby boomers from the workforce.
The two go hand in hand. We need to see a number of leaders step up and not just continue to deliver from their position of leadership but actually to start to transfer their knowledge over time.
Here's an example. My dad has a 30-year start on me. If he downloads to me his 30-year lesson with intention to share leadership lessons, then I get accelerated in my leadership effort.
Because we have so many baby boomer leaving the workforce all at once, we either help and give them a head start or we're left standing there figuring out what to do without much insight into what came before.
Tracy Certo is publisher and editor of Pop City.