leadership dot #2519: vintage

Last weekend our town held its city-wide garage sales and I was struck by how the event has gone from a highlight of the spring to something barely noticeable. It used to be that hoards of people would walk the main streets, going from house to house hunting for treasures. This year we practically had to drive between sales because they were so few and far between and the buyers were even more sparse. It was a bust.

I hypothesize that eBay, Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and other sites have diminished the allure of a garage sale. Families no longer need to rely on the annual event to unload their unwanted items; they can post them daily and garner some pocket change without the work required to host a weekend-long sale. I was talking with one of the lonely sellers about the phenomenon and she had two other thoughts on why the enthusiasm around sales had dulled: 1) people today are minimalists who don’t want shelves of knickknacks or lots of possessions without a purpose and 2) people are much more mobile, thus purge with each new move instead of accumulating generations of possessions in the family attic. They just have less to sell and have a waning interest in buying something that isn’t the latest and greatest.

Whatever the reason, it is sad that another community-building event seeming has reverted to an online transaction with no personal connections involved. While it may be more efficient to buy and sell via an e-commerce site, there is joy in spending a spring day wandering the neighborhood gathering bargains and treasures for a quarter here and a dollar there.

When you think of “shopping small” think of your local garage sales in that vein. You’ll keep someone’s castaways out of the landfill and amass your own eclectic collection of treasures for a bargain.

leadership dot #2489: mission creep

A recent editorial in our local paper lamented how the city has several elementary schools where nearly three out of four students qualify for free or reduced lunches and questioned whether the school district could do more for low-income schools. It caused me to wonder: when did schools become all-encompassing social services?

When I went to school, I was there to receive instruction. We brought our own lunches, made our own fun at home after school hours and received medical care from the doctor. Today, schools are expected to provide resources for health, wellness, mental health and recreation. The districts manage transportation, meals that accommodate a host of allergies and meet nutritional guidelines and post-school child care options. Schools are asked to address a wide range of social issues: bullying, vaping, teen pregnancy, drug education and now, apparently, even poverty.

I think about organizations like the school district and the role that communication plays in their organization. Consider what is required to keep the legislators, taxpayers and other influencers aware of the significant mission creep that the districts face – and the resources that are needed to effectively support them. Similar communication challenges happen in other centralized organizations that take on more and more over time – if they don’t effectively communicate how the scope has grown it’s likely that their tasks outweigh the human and financial assets required to provide all that is expected.

When you think of schools you think of classrooms, but they have become so much more. Is your organization in a similar situation – providing resources well beyond your original charge? If so, start today to repeatedly communicate what you really do so others understand the complexity and depth of what appears straightforward on the surface, and be prepared to draw the line if the scope creeps beyond your ability to provide it.

Editorial: “Data shows Dubuque’s ‘walk’ far from over, April 5, 2019, Telegraph Herald, p. 4A

leadership dot #2471: vicious cycle

Shopping malls often get a bad rap for causing the demise of downtowns, but they were started with a more noble purpose beyond pure commercialism.

Architect Victor Gruen, known as the Father of The Suburban Shopping Mall, promoted the concept of malls because he believed that suburbs were missing the gathering space that was previously provided by downtowns. As families moved to the ‘burbs, there was no common area for them to meet neighbors, to walk or to interact as they shopped so Gruen created the indoor mall as a way to bring downtown to the suburbs. He included skylights, atriums, open areas and space for community events as a way to provide not just commerce, but a third-space for gathering.

As his concept became replicated across America, the malls resulted in additional urban decay and decline of downtown shopping districts. Gruen stopped building suburban malls and switched his attention to urban planning – creating “pedestrian malls” and greenways in many downtown areas. His influence is still seen today in many cities.

Through his work, Gruen sought to reverse the effects of what he called “the Vicious Cycle.” The growth of the suburbs initially occurred when planners decided it would be best to have “separation of urban functions.” Previously, everyone lived near where they worked and shopped but planners had the idea that living away from commercial and industrial areas was more desirable, so residential neighborhoods moved away from downtown. This led to a need for more road surfaces, which created urban sprawl, which increased the use of cars and decreased the use of public transportation which further increased the separation of functions.

If you put yourself in the mindset of the people at the time, you realize that those who created suburban neighborhoods and shopping malls did so with the good intentions but obviously had unintended consequences that shaped how we live and work. Ask yourself what we are doing now that future historians will look back on and wonder about our motivation.

Duane Hagerty, ArchiTREK Lunch & Learn: Dubuque’s Urban Renewal, 3/21/19

leadership dot #2416: ripple effect

If you need evidence of how entertainment is changing, look no further than my brother’s basement. There he has a multi-piece sectional with recliners, armrests and cup holders – the works – but no one uses it. Instead, the kids gravitate toward the ripped gaming chair and webbed net trampoline chair – allowing them to get closer to the megascreen and play their beloved Fortnite.

I’m sure that the real piece of furniture cost hundreds of dollars, but it was made for an era of watching movies or even streaming on the television. That is so yesterday! Now the gift list includes headsets and X-box gift cards to allow for greater immersion in the virtual gaming world.

Unless you were paying attention, you may not notice the implications that the rise of video gaming created changes in rec room accessories, but it is there. Say goodbye to microwave popcorn – hands are now otherwise occupied — and hello to megabucks gaming chairs with built-in speakers.

Every change creates a ripple effect of other changes. Make it your job to notice what they are.

leadership dot #2390: throwback

While going through old family slides, I found this picture from New Year’s Eve 1969. It was a party that my parents attended, and I’m sure that like those in this photo, my mom wore a dress with nylons and heels and dad wore a suit and tie – to play silly games at someone’s home.

There was no technology involved or big money spent going out for a night “on the town.” All that was necessary was a group of good friends, a few straws and marshmallows and a lot of laughter.

This New Year’s Eve, think about how you want to celebrate. Maybe a throwback party where you make your own fun is the best way to ring in 2019.

 

leadership dot #2380: can’t wait

There was a video circulating on social media showing a child opening “the only present he wanted for Christmas.” My heart sank as I wondered why the gift wasn’t saved to create a joyous Christmas morning when the surprise and wonder could await under the tree.

It used to be that Christmas presents weren’t opened until December 25 and the clearance sales began on December 26. There were many years that we set out in Black-Friday-Style shopping mode on the day after Christmas to capitalize on the half-price decorations or cards, but now items are at that price a full week before the holiday and gifts are given early as well.

What happened to the value of waiting?

Convenience has stripped a generation of its ability to be patient. No one wants to wait for anything anymore and I fear that the accelerated timetable of just about everything condenses the emotion and obliterates the joy that comes when anticipation is fulfilled. We want everything now and have lost the ability to defer gratification and come to a crescendo.

As you ponder your New Year’s Resolutions, consider including “waiting” on your list. Waiting to speak up so you truly listen to what others say. Waiting before jumping in to fix a problem before someone has the opportunity to problem solve for themselves. Waiting to eat that cookie after dinner until you determine you are truly still hungry. Waiting to spend money until you see if the impulse passes.

Ignore all the impulses of this season and get great at the wait. Patience is a gift that keeps giving.

leadership dot #2354: potato

It used to be that people were admonished for being a “couch potato” – someone who sat around on their couch watching television. In today’s world, I think that could be changed to “chair potato” as a moniker to describe someone who sits in their chair for hours playing computer games.

In order to provide the best angle and competitive advantage, stores now sell specialized gaming chairs. Gone are the days of sitting in a beanbag or just laying down on the floor, now there must be a custom piece of equipment for play.

I can see why “sitting is the new smoking.” It goes far beyond the office worker at their computer all day and begins with kids now sitting in their fancy chairs instead of playing kickball in the street or shooting hoops in the driveway.

There were enough potatoes as part of the Thanksgiving feast. Get outside and leave the chair behind for today!