By Rollie Cole, Mark Long, Isabel Cole
I recently read a new book on economic development entitled Wholesale Economic Development. One of the authors (Rollie Cole) has been a frequent contributor to the discussions I have started in LinkedIn Groups. His perspective and experience is always educational and worth reading. So, when Rollie told me he co-authored a new book I committed readily to read it. I just finished the book on my flight to Philadelphia to attend the annual IEDC Conference.
I like the central theme of the book. It counsels that as economic development professionals we should be working on the system and not just working in the system.
I relate to it because at P&G we characterized this as a leadership trait. Managers work in the system while leaders work on the system. Managers get the job done within the defined parameters, and leaders challenge the definitions to find a new and better way to accomplish the task. It is also a concept very consistent with the idea of continual improvement. It suggests we should be looking for ways to do our job better and provide increased value to our communities.
In my opinion, if you take nothing else away from the book, internalizing this concept justifies the investment you’ll make to read it.
The authors also describe working on the system as “wholesale” activities (hence the title). These are activities that positively impact a wide range of companies in your community. Working in the system is described as “retail” activities. They impact one or a few companies. My advice is to not get hung-up of the descriptors. Understand the key point the authors are making and move forward.
Another concept that gets discussed is to adopt a paradigm of testing new ideas. At P&G, AG Lafley used to encourage his leadership team to “fail fast and fail cheap”. He wanted us to run low cost learning experiments so we could sort the wheat from the chaff and quickly focus on scaling up ideas that worked. In economic development, we need to innovate and define new programs/services that provide value to our communities. We need to be wary of accepting the status quo and seek new and improved ways of getting the work done.
The authors also introduce a structured model for brainstorming tactics. They call it the 7B model. Throughout the book are practical examples of how to use the 7B model to find innovative tactics to win. Like any model, this one encourages the user to look at challenges from a different perspective.
My experience with models is that you need to give them a try to see if they are helpful or not. This is one of those models I would encourage you to trust and work through a few real world examples before judging if it is helpful or not. Remember, all models are aids to judgment and not a replacement for it.
A couple more things I really liked in the book were –
- The discussion on the importance of community tolerance and diversity as a key condition for innovation. This is very consistent with my own professional experience. I also liked it because the ADCI Diversity Index (and dimensions) can be used to quantify a location’s diversity friendliness. This would be an interesting use of the ADCI data.
- The importance of attracting talent for sustainable economic success. Based on everything I am reading about the impact retiring baby boomers will have on company’s competitiveness, the authors are spot on. Communities need to find ways to provide company’s access to top talent. If they don’t, companies will have no choice but to relocate so they can get access.
- The normal period for significant improvement is 20-years and the act of making a significant improvement changes a community. This is a great argument for having a defined strategic development plan to move a community from its current image to its desired identity.
The discussion on community branding is admittedly thin. The authors defer to branding experts to fill in the blanks. They do correctly call out that a brand is not a logo and tagline. If you’ve read my past posts, you know I view branding as a strategic exercise. I’ve provided my working definitions and a model to guide successful community branding that you may find helpful supplemental reading to the book.
I hope you take the time to read this new book. I believe you will find it challenges your thinking, and any time that happens it is a good thing. I’d also love to get your constructive feedback. The authors are looking for additional topics to tackle in subsequent editions. I can assure you Rollie will pay attention to any suggestions you offer.