Skip the New Year’s Resolution & Set A Goal

According to, 45% of us will make New Year’s resolutions.  Unfortunately, only 8% of us will succeed.

Why?  Perhaps its semantics.

The definition of a resolution is “a firm decision to do or not to do something” but resolution is also synonymous with intent or decision.  By contrast a goal is defined as “an end to which effort is directed.”  Merriam-Webster elaborates on the significance.

Intention implies little more than what one has in mind to do or bring about.  Whereas a goal suggests something attained only by prolonged effort and hardship.

Ready to set your goals for 2017?  Here are two critical recommendations we see over and over again:

  1. Be specific.  The more vaguely a goal is stated, the more wiggle room you’ll give yourself.  Once you start to wiggle, it’s not long before the goal loses its significance.  Great goals may take time to accomplish, but can be measured along the way.
  2. Get a goal buddy.  Seems lame right?  Well, research shows that sharing a goal with another person helps increase your accountability and the likelihood you’ll succeed.

Want some more tips on how to have a great 2017?  Check out this online article by Laura Shin in Forbes.  While her article was pushed in the lead up to 2016, the content is relevant regardless of the date used.

In Workforce: Think BIG

Whether it be an generic scarce supply of workers or a critical shortage of workers with certain skills, nearly every trade magazine, industry report, business journal, metro newspaper, educational system and economic development group is talking about the workforce challenge.

In this post we summarize some of the biggest challenges and highlight a revolutionary and transformative program (Iowa BIG) that is proving itself to be a winning solution at the front lines of creating a future workforce more prepared and connected to the communities they call home.

Workforce Feels Like a Losing Battle

Battles are being fought in our schools, our communities and our companies as new programs addressing a range of topics from STEM to competency based learning and from ‘stackable’ certificates to on-the-job training are created and replicated.

And the gold rush is on for every workforce, educationally and vocationally connected organization to carve out its space to provide the answer, relying often on short term state and federal grants to create new programs with lots of strings attached.

From the outside looking in, it’s a mess and the results in many communities we’ve studied aren’t surprising.  Instead of cooperation, coordination and opportunity we’re seeing confusion, competition and overlap.

Battle Tested, BIG comes up Victorious

Iowa BIG.  There is an initiative based educational program in Cedar Rapids that is taking students out of the traditional classroom and putting them into real life work situations. It’s gotten the attention of former President Bill Clinton and the X-Q Super School Project, who recently awarded it $1 million in support over the next five years.

Instead of an “intern” or “hands off and watch” approach, the students of Iowa BIG work in teams to tackle projects that most small businesses know need to happen, but they may lack the time and resources to complete.  Through their work on these projects, students have to demonstrate mastery 3 times corresponding to standards in the core curriculum.

If you’re questioning the methodology, think about it in these terms.  In a traditional classroom environment a student learns about the fundamentals of a speech, culminating in a typical speech given in front of the class.  By contrast, in Iowa Big, students are learning communication skills as they interact with business clients, write business documents and make presentations on their business solutions in front of executive teams, boards of directors and etc.

Even more awesome is the students are learning (not watching) skills employers need.  For example, they’re creating SQL databases for warehousing and distribution companies; designing building expansions using tools like Sketchup; and planning and installing “edible” landscapes in urban parks.

Finally, and even more importantly, they are developing real networks of business mentors and connections that ultimately will draw them back to the communities they’ve invested themselves into improving.

Check out more information on Iowa BIG.

Exponential Tech Growth Requires New Solutions

Our company’s blog spends a lot of time writing about the impact of disruptive technology on economic development, communities and companies.  Why?  Because technology isn’t just changing based on typical exponential growth curves.

With exponential technological growth comes the need for new solutions to ensure your company or community are not left behind. Below we discuss DIUx as an example of how one government agency is keeping pace with technological change and escaping the typical bureaucracies that limit innovation and adoption.

Combinatorial Exponential Growth

Technology is mixing across scientific fields, leading to what is referred to as combinatorial exponential growth.   Or as Ray Kurzweil wrote in 2001, this is the time when we enter the second half of the chessboard, which he explains is like the parable of the Chinese servant that when granted a wish by the emperor he asks for 1 grain of rice to be place on the first square, two on the second, four on the third. . . a request that starts out as rather respectable until half way through the chessboard over 4 billion grains of rice have been doled out.  By the last square of the chessboard, 18 trillion grains of rice would have been required.

So What is DIUx?

It’s a programmatic example of how Government is attempting to keep pace with the exponential growth of technology.

Confronted with technological advancements that impact strategic decision making, DIUx (which stands for Defense Innovation Unit Experimental) was founded less than two years ago by the Department of Defense.  DIUx is unlike any other government program, operating with a meager budget of less than $30 million and a staff of around 40 it leverages its location in Silicon Valley to put our military in position to more quickly and cost effectively adapt emerging technologies into military use.

Want to learn more?  Check out this recent story by Fred Kaplan for the MIT Technology Review.


Four Ways Your Plan for 2017 Will Fail

action-plan-2017So you’ve had the annual executive retreat, analyzed your business and carefully put together a plan for 2017.  You’re feeling good and you’re ready for the holidays.  Bring on the egg nog.

Not so fast.  Here are four ways your plan for 2017 will fail. (And how you can change your thinking to change the outcome)

  1. Too Much Optimism.  No one wants to be negative.  And unless anointed the role of ‘contrarian’ no employee (even your best executive) wants to assume that title.  But, if you’ve gone through a process to develop a plan for the next year and none of your conversations have delved into uncomfortable territory or produced thoughtful disagreement, then you’ve got problems. Inevitably there are some sacred cows holding you back.  To be successful, everything has to be on the table and everyone has to be empowered to state the obvious.  No pain, no gain.
  2. Those Darn Comfy Pants Again.  I’ve been around enough Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to know there are really two kinds of pants.  Comfy pants and stretch pants.  Comfy pants are a favorite pair of jeans that make you feel good.  Stretch pants make you feel better, but only because they offer you comfort when you’ve pushed the limits of yourself for a short period of time.  Ask yourself, when the invite went out to create the goals for your 2017 plan, what was the suggested dress code?  Did everyone put on their comfy pants, relax and go with what feels good?  Or did they pull out their stretch pants and challenge themselves to take on a little more and get a little uncomfortable in the short term?
  3. Rephrase, Rearrange, Repeat.  Is your 2017 plan really just an extension of your 2016 plan?  If so, ask yourself if you are really putting yourself in a position to grow?  Set your 2016 plan next to your 2017 plan and compare.  Similar?  Far to often we see companies and organizations fall into the trap of “rephrase, rearrange, repeat” when it comes to planning.
  4. Your Budget is Your Plan.  Do you need a plan?  Yes.  Do you need a budget?  Absolutely.  Is a budget a plan?  Not even close.  Budgets are a reflection of the past.  They are the setting of future expectations based on what we know today and what we have most recently experienced.  In contrast, planning represents where you want to be in the future.  Budgets are inflexible, while plans are adaptive.  And tracking a line item budget month to month doesn’t measure progress, it measures restraint.

You Want to Succeed, You Need to Own It

pexels-photo-131616-1Is your community hungry for economic development?  Then you need to own it.  You need to pick your target (existing or new) and then take bold steps of leadership to own it.  Success can’t be leased.

  1.  Picking the Target – this is the process of understanding exactly what assets your community already has and what assets it’s willing to create.  Do you have an abundance of water and sewer capacity?  A high unemployment rate due to a factory closing?  Or an industry that has organically clustered in your community because of certain advantages that may not be readily apparent?  Picking your target is understanding what you have, what you are good at and how you can leverage it.
  2. Leading to Own – Now that you have the target(s) and you know what you bring to the table, you need a higher level of leadership, investment and commitment to truly compete and own the space.  Take Iowa for example.  They are #1 in corn, #1 in soy, #1 in ethanol and #2 in biodiesel.  They are awash in biomass.  Perfect.  And now they are primed to lead the nation in bio-renewable chemical production.  Why?  Because they knew that by being the first in the nation in biomass added to being the first in the nation to offer a tax credit to use it in the production of other bio products equals ownership of that space.

Another good example?

Michigan Steps Up.  Michigan isn’t the auto juggernaut it used to be.  However, it’s significance in the auto industry and its supply chain is still at the top of the food chain.  Realizing that they should be at the fore front of new automotive technological developments and the resulting production, they’ve stepped up to do what no other state has, approving legislation that allows (a) for the testing of vehicles that are autonomous/driver-less, (b) for the operation of driver-less ride-sharing services and (c) clear rules for how self driving cars can be sold publicly once tested and certified.

The move, which is impressive, comes on the heels of announcements last week that Uber bought an artificial intelligence company (to help with driver-less vehicle development) and Silicon Valley’s continued pursuit to be the hub for autonomous vehicle development by ‘tech’ companies like Google (Alphabet).  Thus, not only was Michigan’s action a bold attempt to block others from their attempt to take the space Michigan has owned for decades.

And a cautionary tale. . .

Washington On Notice?  Washington State has been not only synonymous with Boeing, but with the aerospace industry as a whole.  Yet, despite being leaders that that arena, they’ve not been without heavy challengers in recent years.  South Carolina took a piece of their turf  with the opening of Boeing’s second 787 line in 2011.  And Airbus selected Alabama for its first U.S. production facility a few years later.  All of this has been followed up in the last few years by some in the public, the media, and the state’s legislature questioning the $8.7 billion tax incentive package it provided the industry. The question now is whether they still own the space.  Or, are they leasing it while the industry transitions elsewhere.  The future?  Slightly uncertain.  While Washington State can control it’s own destiny, it needs to recognize the serious challenges ahead.

[Bloggers note: this post was initially made prior to Boeing’s announced slow down of the 777 line on 12/12/2016]