There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Most experts agree there are several potential pathways a community or business can take to embark on a successful transformation. Rarely is a difficult journey a one-size-fits-all event. Travelers will each have their own set of unique obstacles to overcome and their own mountains to climb. They must identify those issues and mountains, tackling them in such a way that fits their unique abilities and expertise.
One of the largest mountains to climb for many communities and businesses is a term I refer to as a "poverty-minded" attitude. Many communities and businesses need to overcome the economic issues of social or demographic poverty, but that is not the "poverty-minded" that I am referring to in this context.
The poverty mindset I am referring to is the mindset of those who are in the position to make transformation happen but don't. Despite being in this position, they are stuck with a poverty-minded attitude due to their long-term battle and association with the poverty experienced through community decay. While they dream of it, it is difficult for them to see beyond the poverty ingrained in their minds and into a future full of hope and progress.
I have consulted with businesses that wouldn't accept credit cards because it costs a few percentage points on each transaction. When convinced to change, they were thrilled as their business increased nearly 30%. Trying to save a few pennies costs them hundreds or even thousands of dollars in potential business. These same problems and mindsets exist on an even greater and more devastating scale in city governments and with civic leaders who control the future and financial destiny of the community and downtown.
The poverty mindset is an easy mindset to have. As one watches the decay within a community or business accelerate, it is easy to be lured into believing decay is normal and to be expected. With numerous examples of decay all around them, why would they think differently? After all, it is happening in hundreds or even thousands of towns across the country.
How does a community, downtown, or business overcome a poverty mindset? What is the common ingredient successful communities and businesses have adopted that flows through all their transformation efforts? The answer is not difficult. The common ingredient is simply looking at what might be the opposite of a poverty mindset. That common ingredient is something we are drawn toward, a positive "can-do" attitude.
The first step in any transformation of a community or business is a strong vision coupled with a very healthy dose of optimism. When you couple a strong vision with genuine optimism, many community and business obstacles can be overcome. The poverty-mindset crowd must be overwhelmed with a strong vision and a positive can-do attitude that is infectious. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner; few want to claim to be a member of the losing team.
To assure success, the vision must be achievable, and your optimism tempered with a solid and realistic vision. Far too many communities or businesses fail to understand how much ability they already possess. Never underestimate the ability of the residents and business owners in a community to accomplish what was previously thought unthinkable. Many communities and businesses are wallowing in self-pity while others are busy undergoing incredible and sustainable transformation.
Oftentimes, the biggest obstacles are our own citizens and those in positions to enact the greatest change. The greatest task is converting them to the vision and the dream. Of course, you have a lot to lose. The unwillingness to change just means continued erosion and decay, adding to the continued demise of your community.
As you might have surmised, this column is short on specifics and long on mindsets and attitudes. That is by design. It is the vision, mindset and positive attitude that determines your success. I have seen few, if any, communities or businesses succeed without having this strong will to win and succeed. Now is the time to travel together as leaders and as a community. By doing so, you can travel far. The time for change is now. If a community or business refuses to change, it will be rendered inadequate in the world that is transforming around you.
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John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business and media consultant and speaker. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column appears in many communities around the country. He is the founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to assisting communities, creating excitement and energy, and combining synergies with local media to better their communities. He can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.