Discipline Five: Get on Base
Here is the next installment of Michael J. Brennan's series, "The Seven Disciplines of a Community of Progress: Creating a New Path." In it, Brennan, the president of United Way for Southeastern Michigan, explores how our region can move forward, and looks at past successes.
There are seven disciplines that must be present for our region to make consistent progress. We could identify this progress when we see forward movement on issues such as jobs that pay a wage, which support a family, or greater access to quality health care, or even a higher graduation rate for our urban centers to name just a few. A community of progress readily finds these disciplines at work.
The Seven Disciplines of a Community of Progress
1. Believe It to be Possible
2. Embrace the Genius of the And
3. Pass the Torch of Leadership
4. Power of Three
5. Get on Base
6. Strengthen the Citizen Muscle
7. Only Everyone
Discipline Five: Get on Base
There is not one Major League Baseball team that won the World Series in the past 20 years that led the league in home runs. As a matter of fact, the last team to do that was our very own Detroit Tigers in 1984. But over that same period of time, there were many teams that led the league with an on base percentage that took the ultimate prize.
In communities, we often look for the home run that will change everything; the charismatic leader who will lead a community out of despair and into hope, or the company that will take care of each employee’s economic security, or even the sporting event that will change everything. Yet, most progress that is made in neighborhoods, cities, and regions come from doing little things right over a sustained period of time. That is, it knows how to get on base.
Just like any other muscle, there is an unusual strength that develops when a community has the ability to successfully get things done over and over. From this exercise, individuals and institutions build trust and experience that provide a platform for a stretch double, maybe a triple, or even, once in a great while, a home run.
"The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life, is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do."
-Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point
When we think of the problems that the region faces, it can be beyond daunting. It can paralyze us. One cannot go from low high school graduation rates to high graduation rates over night. A region cannot put in mass transit with a magic wand. A new economy for the region will not emerge from a single company. But with the right series of actions, applied over time, progress can be made on all fronts.
Defining success, not by the headlines but, by measurable products or improvements on the issues we care about, will build the foundation necessary to tackle the larger more complex issues. We wouldn’t ask an elementary student to sit for a college entrance exam. Rather, we trust that if we do the right things and prepare ourselves over time, we will be ready for that moment.
I see this region getting on base more often than it used to. One does not have to look far to see consistent work being accomplished: Ryder Cup — to the All Star Game — to the Super Bowl — to the Final Four in 2009. Comerica Park. Ford Field. Campus Martius. Arab American Museum. Charles Wright Museum. Holocaust Museum. Ford River Rouge Tour. Detroit Riverwalk. Automation Alley. United Way’s 211. Riverfront Conservancy. Rouge Watershed Initiative. New Smith Terminal. Book Cadillac Hotel Redevelopment.
These and others are examples we can build upon. A region is not built on false hopes or mere promises. Instead, a region grows when we intersect common aspirations with concrete results.
Our experience and capacity to deliver on sporting events, complete needed buildings and infrastructure is critical to regional success. As important is the connection between social conditions and economic advancement. Great cities of the world do not experience economic prosperity absent of social progress. They are interdependent to one another. Our ability to take the same skills and energy to build economic success and apply them to human success – improving school performance, creating health access, and narrowing the income gap – gives a sustainable platform for future community success.
Learning to duplicate our community success gives us the skills and trust necessary for consistency. These singles, getting us on base, should be the rules we live by, not the exception.
Discipline Five in Action
I heard Paul Savage, CEO of Nextek which is a resident company of Tech Town, speak about his decision to open a location in southeastern Michigan because the talent, support and dedication to future innovation was best expressed here. He moved his company to an area of the region most residents have never traveled – east of the New Center area in Detroit in an urban renewal center called Tech Town.
Paul’s company, Nextek, focuses on providing the technology to integrate alternative energy sources (such as solar-generated power) and power from the grid to cost effectively meet the power demands of commercial buildings. Nextek helps companies use the lowest-cost power source to meet a demand in real time, 24 hours per day, 365 days per year.
Nextek is just one of many companies that are working in a collaborative, called Tech Town, to bring forth the next economic engine for the region. This working partnership of money, people, ideas and infrastructure creates a village of innovation to change the way the world thinks about and uses energy.
Imbedded is the belief:
Michigan must lead a transformation in how vehicles are built and power supplied. Our history in American industrial know-how is well documented. Michigan must build a platform for another major industry to grow out of the old.
The economic, human and intellectual resources for this collaborative effort are here and ready to move forward.
Tech Town and its partners like Nextek are not thinking that a home run saves the day but, rather, that a consistent delivery of companies with powerful products and ideas will build a cumulative effect that could change this region. The power of cooperation and ideas. The power of leveraging strengths already present. The power of using technology in new ways. These are the best hits we need in order to achieve progress and score some runs. If you want a boost of hope, drive yourself over to Tech Town and step inside the brand new facility that is working to make tomorrow bright.
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