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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

Fish for Dinner

A little girl was watching her mother prepare a fish for dinner. Her mother cut the head and tail off the fish and then placed it into a baking pan. The little girl asked her mother why she cut the head and tail off the fish. Her mother thought for a while and then said, “I’ve always done it that way – that’s how my mother did it.”

Not satisfied with the answer, the little girl went to visit her grandma to find out why she cut the head and tail off the fish before baking it. Grandma thought for a while and replied, “I don’t know. My mother always did it that way.”

So the little girl and the grandma went to visit great grandma to ask if she knew the answer. Great grandma thought for a while and said, “Because my baking pan was too small to fit in the whole fish”.

The little girl’s example is exactly what I have been hearing from all corners of Tama County as of late. “We have always done it that way!” that exact phrase, followed by: ‘”You just don’t understand how we do things around here.’ Or, worse still: ‘We tried it that way once and it didn’t work.’

It’s time to seriously examine the way in which we all operate in today’s rapidly changing environment. Certainly, it’s important to build on the past successes and not simply change for the sake of change, which is a costly exercise in itself. But, never forget that, even if you don’t change, our competitive counties and neighboring states will.

Too often, people confuse necessary change with change for the sake of change. That is not to say that you throw out the baby with the bath water, but any county – regardless of its past success – should always remain open to new ideas. It’s a recipe for disaster to continue to do things the same old way without at least occasionally assessing if that way of doing things is actually working or you simply “think” it’s working for you.

Past success is no guarantee of future success. For example, take The Fortune 500 List (America’s largest companies); of the 500 companies that appeared on the first list in 1955, only 71 hold a place on the list today. Nearly 2,000 companies have appeared on the list since its inception, and most are long gone from it. Just because you have become successful once guarantees nothing about your ability to endure.

Some of the most powerful companies on today’s list—businesses like Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Dell, and Google—grew from zero to huge very rapidly, bumping venerable old companies off (some that no longer even appear on the list—Scott Paper, Zenith, Rubbermaid, Chrysler, Teledyne, and Warner Lambert).

Keeping up with the speed of change applies not just to companies, but to every organization within our county, as technology – among other factors – continues to have an ever-increasing influence on the way we operate. We cannot afford to be complacent.

To succeed, all of our leaders will need to constantly look at better ways to run their organizations, and hopefully will always remember:  The lesson from a girl watching her mom prepare fish for dinner.

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