The Power of Yes!
How many times have you been in a meeting trying to figure out how to accomplish something really important and one yahoo takes all of the oxygen out of the room spouting reasons why any path you take is sure to lead you into the fifth or sixth – if not the seventh – circle of hell?
We’ve all seen this play out in our communities too many times. Someone has an idea that could make a positive difference in the community. Instantly the opposition attacks by slinging mud indiscriminately. Sometimes the mud-slinging is personality-driven (“He’s not my President.”). Sometimes it’s self-interest-driven (“If that happens, my Party/neighborhood/business/constituents may lose power or prestige.”). Sometimes it’s mistrust (“It sounds good, but I can’t trust that SOB not to be hiding something.”). But whatever its source, this explicit negativity holds implicit veto power. In fact, this implicit veto power is the greatest barrier to positive change in this Age of Influence.
That’s why it’s a good idea every once in a while to be reminded that there are still some positive people in this world who believe in “Just do it.” Textron has provided an example I recently found out about. Their division that makes golf carts is in Augusta, GA, just across the river from me. They were going to expand but had a problem getting enough qualified workers. To solve this, Textron partnered with the local school system to start a program they call RPM (“Reaching Potential through Manufacturing”). The program is aimed at getting more qualified workers for Textron and helping disadvantaged students get their high school diplomas.
Textron built a new facility with two production lines to support the program. 75 disadvantages students were selected, none of whom had passed more than one of their courses the previous term. The students were required to work four hours a day on the assembly line as well as four hours of school.
At the end of the first quarter, about 40% of the students had passed all of their courses for the quarter, and every student showed marked improvment. Next year the program in Augusta will be expanded to 150 kids and Textron intends to take it to all of their manufacturing locations.
Another example from across the country. Dan Homsey is one of the most loquaciously positive people I know. He has to be in the running for the title “Energizer Bunny of Resilience.” He is the Director of Community Resilience for the City of San Francisco (CA) and the founder and guiding light behind the Neighborhood Empowerment Network (NEN) movement. Dan is relentlessly pursuing resilience one neighborhood at a time. His approach is predicated on developing leaders in each neighborhood who can both listen and then mobilize their neighbors into action. It’s a distinctly “Whole Community” approach – making use of all of a community’s assets. From libraries to land trusts, the neighborhood is empowered to develop its own vision of resilience using whatever assets it has or can corner, ever mindful of all the hazards it faces.
Dan has extended this to places as disparate as New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and Wellington, New Zealand. But his heart is always in San Francisco. He is the quintessential avatar of the “Power of Yes!” out-thinking (and out-talking!) nay sayers.
Another place, another example of the “Power of Yes!” PandemicPrep.org (PPO) in St. Louis is doing an outstanding job of preparing the community for pandemics – and other disasters. One of their best innovations was getting most of the businesses in St. Louis to act as closed points of dispensing of vaccines in case of contagion outbreak. Without this, it would take public health authorities over a month to provide vaccine to the city. By using businesses to vaccinate their employees and their families, the process should take only a few days. This initiative also had the unexpected consequence of raising morale and productivity for the companies that are participating – in the words of one employee “We didn’t know you cared.” PPO has also worked on crisis information sharing and other disaster-related initiatives.
There are stories like this for nearly every community in America. I myself have one. When I was Chair of the largest association of private retirees in my state, I started an initiative to help our members make the most of their health benefits. There were those in the Retiree Association who derided the effort saying it would cost too much and who would want it anyhow. After two years of operation, we have helped almost 1500 retirees optimize their benefits so that almost $2 M has been pumped back into the local economy.
For communities, resilience is the fundamental dynamic virtue; it is not a passive property that only comes into play in a crisis. Community resilience requires the Power of Yes! to express itself – someone who is willing to withstand the slings and arrows of outraged nay-sayers to accomplish something worth doing. What does your community need to accomplish? Who will exert the “Power of Yes!”?