Tag Archives: phil hardwick

Why it’s so difficult to change someone’s mind.

Don’t confuse me with facts. My mind’s made up.

Have you ever read a social media post that was so idiotic and misinformed that you couldn’t believe anyone would post something like that? And then you find out that it was the product of someone you know and respect. Someone you know who you cannot believe that they have that opinion? You think you can change their mind? You should probably just forget about it.

In this case, we’re talking about someone who has made a controversial post on social media, not someone who is open to discussion about an issue.

The main problem with changing someone’s mind these days is because so many lines have been drawn between politics, COVID 19 response, environmental impact, social justice, and school re-openings, just to name a few. In this column, we will look at how values, beliefs, and opinions are formed and how difficult for them to be changed.

Opinions are often based on the groups we belong to and on emotion, not facts. For some people, being alienated by the group is worse than conforming to the group, thus we accept the group’s opinions and values. We feel that we belong when we make a statement that is immediately agreed to and reinforced. We feel shunned when the members of the group ridicule our opinion or statement and attempt to change our mind. In other words, we feel good when someone else validates our opinion.

Thanks to social media, some of our groups are our online friends and followers. Social media companies accelerate our affiliation with our groups. It is much easier for someone simply to “like” our opinion than to comment on it. There is no “dislike” button. Have you ever wondered why businesses and individuals request that you like or follow them? Social media has a way of meeting our emotional need of belonging. We recall that in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the most basic emotional need is to be accepted by others.

Is it really difficult for someone to change their mind about something they believe? The answer is yes, and there are reasons based on research.

Confirmation Bias and Motivated Reasoning – A person accepts facts when they come from a source on their side, and rejects facts that come from a source on the other side.

In a study entitled “Confirmation Bias in the Utilization of Others’ Opinion Strength,” published in the December 16, 2019 issue of Nature Neoroscience, researchers found that “Humans tend to discount information that undermines past choices and judgments.“ Senior author Professor Toli Sharot, stated in a related article in Medical News Today that “Because humans make the vast majority of decisions — including professional, personal, political and purchase decisions — based on information received from others, the identified bias in using the strength of others’ opinions is likely to have a profound effect on human behavior.”

The Illusory Truth Effect – The more often one hears a statement the more likely they believe it is correct.

The illusory Truth Effect was introduced in 1977 in a research paper describing a study by Lynn Hasher, David Goldstein, and Thomas Toppino. The authors were from Villanova University and Temple University. Illusory Truth Effect is the positive feeling that is experienced when we hear information that we know is true is similar to the feeling that occurs when we hear information we have heard before. Thus, if we choose to get our news regularly from the same sources, such as a certain cable news network or radio talk show, we often hear the same bias.

Speaking of news media, which many blame along with social media, for the current polarization of the country, an August 4, 2020 Gallup study entitled “News Media Viewed as Biased but Crucial to Democracy” found that, “More than eight in 10 Americans say the media bears “a great deal” (48%) or “a moderate amount” (36%) of blame for political division in this country. But nearly as many say the media could do “a great deal” (49%) or “a moderate amount” (35%) to heal those divisions.

The same study reported:

“Americans are largely overwhelmed by the sheer volume and speed of news coverage, and 78% say the spread of misinformation online is “a major problem,” exceeding all other challenges posed by the media environment. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults would like to see major internet companies find ways to exclude false information or hateful expression online.”

Also, Political Party Affiliation Remains Key Predictor of Attitudes About Media:

“Seventy-one percent of Republicans but far fewer Democrats (22%) and independents (52%) have an unfavorable opinion of the news media. Across all measures, Republicans express more negative sentiments about the media than do Democrats and independents.”

In summary, it is becoming more difficult to change the mind of someone who has deeply held opinions and beliefs. So how does one change someone else’s mind under these circumstances? We will address that subject and discuss the effect on businesses and organizations in our next column.

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.
– John Kenneth Galbraith

What are bellwethers, and how are they used?

During this pandemic, there are daily statistics, trends, charts, and other data offered to the public.  It’s difficult to make sense of it all.

What’s the real current status? What does the future hold? Which numbers should we pay attention to? Number of cases, percent increase in cases, deaths per capita, hospitalizations per capita, or something else? Are there data that can reliably predict the number of cases? And if so, can it aid us in deciding which activities we should or should not participate in? What we need is a reliable bellwether.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a bellwether is a leader, pacemaker or trendsetter. The term comes  from the Middle English “bellewether” and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) leading the flock of sheep. A shepherd could then note the movements of the flock by hearing the bell, even when the flock was not in sight.  In other words, a bellwether is something, that either leads or indicates trends or forthcoming activity or outcomes.  It can be an individual, a company, an activity, a place, or data.

To determine a bellwether for coronavirus infections it is useful to understand which actions or activities have the highest risk. The Texas Medical Association recently released a chart listing behaviors from low risk to high risk. Playing tennis and pumping gasoline (thank goodness) are at the low risk section of the chart. Going to a bar and eating at a buffet are in the high risk section. Eating inside at a restaurant is of moderate-high risk. Useful information, for sure.  The Texas Medical Association chart can be found online at –

I came across an interesting article in the June 26, 2020 edition of USA Today that made a lot of sense regarding an activity that could be a bellwether. The activity? Eating in a restaurant. Jesse Edgerton, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, noted the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago – most notably in-person versus online – was the strongest predictor of a surge in coronavirus cases during that time period. That makes sense given the risks mentioned above. His analysis was based on spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders. Also, Edgerton found that higher spending in supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus, suggesting consumers are practicing “more careful social distancing” in that environment.

Bellwethers are often found in the business world. Find a company that indicates a forthcoming economic activity and a company can gear up or down for what’s ahead.

Alcoa Aluminum, for example, is considered a bellwether for the overall economy because it operates in a cyclical industry, i.e. one that has cycles of expansion, peak, contraction, and trough. Also, it is the first major company to report quarterly earnings, and its report is considered a bellwether for the corporate earnings season. FedEx is also considered a bellwether for the economy. Strong revenues and earnings for FedEx suggest strong consumer and business shipping activity, which ebbs and flows with the strength of the economy. Caterpillar, which sells construction equipment is a bellwether not only for the domestic economy but also the global economy. JPMorgan Chase is an example of a bellwether stock. As one of the major banks in the United States, it sets the tone for the rest of the industry.

I asked State Economist Darrin Webb if there were any bellwethers his office tracks to make predictions and forecasts about the Mississippi economy. His response:

“We have a number of indicators that we track.  Because every data series has some problems, we have found that looking at multiple series helps us understand what is really happening.  Our monthly publication, Mississippi’s Business, contains many indicators that we have found helpful.   Some of the most important ones in my opinion include Income tax withholdings, U.S. retail sales, manufacturing workweek length, initial and continued unemployment claims, the manufacturing and non manufacturing ISM index, NFIB optimism index, consumer sentiment index.  These are all included in our monthly publication.  Additionally I look at foreclosure and delinquency rates.  I think MS retail sales tax transfers are a good indicator but the reported data lags retail sales (June transfers reflect May sales).”

There are also political/election bellwethers, one of the most common being counties. Nationally, presidential candidates play close attention to the following bellwether counties that have successfully picked winners over the years:

Valencia County, New Mexico – perfect since 1952 (longest current perfect streak); Vigo County, Indiana – 2 misses (1908, 1952) from 1888 on, perfect since 1956; Westmoreland County, Virginia – two misses since 1928 (in 1948 and 1960), perfect since 1964; Ottawa County, Ohio – one miss since 1948 (in 1960), perfect since 1964; and        

Wood County, Ohio – one miss since 1964 (in 1976), perfect since 1980.

Mississippi’s election bellwether counties include:

Chickasaw County, Mississippi – one miss since 1972 (in 1980);

Pike County, Mississippi – two misses since 1972 (in 1980 and 2016); and

Panola County, Mississippi – two misses since 1972 (in 1980 and 2000).

These are just a few examples of bellwethers. Whether it’s business, political, fashion, retail or personal services, bellwethers play an important role in planning for the future.

Originally published in the Mississippi Business Journal, 7/13/2020

Restaurant spending could be a coronavirus bellwether

A bellwether is an indicator of trends. For example, an increase in gasoline sales might indicate future auto travel activity. Sales at certain retailers or other businesses may serve as as a bellwether to analyze broader trends across the retail industry.

Now there may be a good bellwether for predicting the spread of coronovirus. Jesse Edgerton, an economist with JPMorgan Chase, did some research and found the level of spending in restaurants three weeks ago – most notably in-person versus online – was the strongest predictor of a surge in coronavirus cases during that time. I think he’s on to something. As reported in a June 26, 2020 USA Today article, “Based on spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders, Edgerton found that higher spending in supermarkets predicted a slower spread of the virus, suggesting consumers are practicing “more careful social distancing in a state.”

100 Ways to fight racism

If you’re searching for the best way for you to fight racism USA Today has a list of 100 way. See the link below.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/2020/05/29/george-floyd-death-donations-resources-justice-petitions/5282539002/

March 2020 Update

March 2020

Greetings:

March certainly came in like a lion. I don’t think it will go out like a lamb. Here at our new home in north Georgia Carol and I are closing out the month “sheltering in place,” going out only to play tennis or make a quick trip to the grocery or pharmacy. The coronavirus situation is presented daily in the media as numbers of cases and deaths and where they are located. Important information, for sure.

But there is a story that captures this crisis. It’s about what happened and continues to happen in Albany, Georgia. A beloved school janitor dies, there is a funeral of over 200 mourners, and a few weeks later people start dying.  

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BOOKS READ THIS MONTH

Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens.   One of the best books I’ve ever read. No wonder it is now in its 80th week on the New York Times Bestsellers List.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo. A powerful children’s book. Ann Patchett, best-selling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville said, “…it changed my life.” This one should be read first by the adult before reading to smaller children. Yes, I read children’s books. We have four grandchildren.

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THE ZOOM CONFERENCING APP has soared to use and popularity as more groups are meeting online. It’s fantastic, for sure. Zoom’s cloud-meetings app is currently the most popular free app for iPhones in the United States, according to Sensor Tower, a mobile app market research firm. But wait a minute. The New York Attorney General is looking into its privacy practices.

Zoom says it is no longer forwarding user data to Facebook.

P.S. Hey Microsoft, what happened to Skype?  

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A VIST TO STARKVILLE, MISSISSIPPI

Earlier this month, I had a pleasant visit to StarkVegas to do some research for an upcoming project. The historic Chester Hotel was my home base. It was featured in an episode of Gordon Ramsey’s Hotel Hell. Worth watching.

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OUR TRAVELING HAS COME TO A HALT. Our late Springtime travel plans included trips to Panama and Alaska. Cancellations were handled in different ways. The airlines (Delta and Alaska Airlines) charged a small cancellation fee and promised e-credits for future flights. They still haven’t been posted. The cruise line for Alaska promised a 50% refund and a 50% credit for a future cruise. Still haven’t received either. 

And then there is Caravan Tours, the company we booked for our Panama trip. I had purchased a trip insurance policy that allowed cancellation for any reason. When I called Caravan to cancel, I was informed that everything I had paid would be fully refunded. Within 10 days I had received a full refund. Consequently, we plan to take at least two Caravan tours in the future. I don’t mean to sound critical of the airlines and the cruise line because they are dealing with an economic and communications disaster, but I believe exceptional customer service should be rewarded. So thank you Caravan.

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COLUMNS PUBLISHED IN MARCH

Image is everything, even in Mississippi

Customers are judging everything of every transaction

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SELF-PUBLISHING – The most common writing question I get is, Who’s your publisher?

It seems the publishing world changes everyday. Authors, especially new authors, have more alternatives than ever. There’s one author I keep up with when is comes to marketing and self-publishing. 

Joe Konrath is considered a pioneer in self-publishing. He has sold more than three million books in twenty countries. He’s written over forty novels and over a hundred short stories in the mystery, thriller, horror, and sci-fi genres. He’s been a #1 Amazon bestseller on three different occasions, and has been in the Top 100 bestseller lists over twenty times. He’s twice won the Love is Murder Award for best thriller, and has also won the Derringer Award, and the Ellery Queen Readers Choice Award, and has been nominated for many others including the Anthony, Macavity, and Gumshoe.

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SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT 

The most important thing in life is to stop saying “I wish” and say “I will.” – Charles Dickens

Your customers are not all the same

Once upon a time, I did some research about customer transactions for a company that had an office where customers could come in, sign up for new accounts, make payments on existing accounts and otherwise transact business. My task was to learn more about why customers were coming to the facility to transact business when they could just as easily, actually even more easily, complete the transaction online. What I discovered from one certain customer caused me to rethink business transactions.

She was a senior citizen, not quite what one would call elderly. She waited patiently in line behind several others, then approached the counter and interacted with the clerk. It appeared that she made a payment of some kind. I approached her as she was leaving, identified myself and told her I was doing some research. She brightened up and told me she would be glad to participate. She told me that she had internet service, lived some distance from the facility and always made her monthly payment in person. When I probed about the reasons she did so instead of using her computer at home, she quickly responded, “Because Becky always asks me about my back.”

What I learned was that hers was as much a social interaction as a business transaction. I also begin to wonder if some businesses were placing too much emphasis on the mechanics of their customer transactions to the detriment of the emotional element of their transactions. Of course, I also learned that every customer is different and that not all customers value the same thing in a business transaction.

The key is to know what customers want. And not just customers as a bundle, but each individual customer. That can be tricky and time-consuming. Algorithms and artificial intelligence may be getting better at personalizing transactions, but sometimes it can backfire. Overuse of technology can remove that personal touch and cause the loss of a customer.

Recently, an employee of a nonprofit organization told me about a fundraising effort that was about to begin. She told me about the specific program that the funds would be used for. She also told me to mention her name when I made the contribution. She also suggested a modest amount. Any amount was fine as long as I contributed something and mentioned her name. I suspected some competition among employees was going on.

The initiative was something that I wanted to support, so I went online and made a contribution several times the amount suggested. The online transaction was efficient. It even provided a box to enter the name of a person who referred me if I wished to do so. Less than 10 seconds after clicking “Submit” on my computer I had a new email in my inbox thanking me for my contribution. It was the most generic, simple “thank you” I believe I have ever seen. Two sentences, no personalization and no mention of the person I said referred me. That was a month ago. I haven’t seen the employee or received anything else since then.

Here are my seat-of-the-pants recommendations for creating successful transactions:

Know your customer. Is your primary customer a male, female, young, old, new, etc.? Know the demographics of your customers. Who is it buying your product or service?

Learn what your customer really values. One of the keys to amazon.com’s success is that it has shortened the time between desire and fulfillment. Online customers probably value things like convenience, speed and the ability to shop more than the customer who goes to the mall.

Determine how to satisfy the customer. Once you know what the customer really values, then figure out how to fulfill that desire. I believe we have overused the term “exceed customer expectations.” I know it’s tough. Companies are trying hard.   But some customers want more than just the basics of the transaction.  Use technology, but don’t over-digitize. By the way, do you think most of the customers sitting in a Starbucks Cafe really are there because of the coffee?

Train employees — I recommend regularly checking the Gallup organization website to better understand what employees want.
Follow-up with customers. Maybe even make phone contact with them. Beware of online reviews. There are companies now that are paid to make phone good online reviews. When looking at online reviews though, pay attention to those from obvious real customers.
Monitor trends. What do customers want in the transaction, not just what they are buying. And keep up with society trends. I recommend faith popcorn.com as a good source for that kind of information.

Finally, let’s look to a couple of experts on this subject.

Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”

There are customers out there who are looking for you. Help them find you by being where they are looking. Places like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Maps, Google Search, Social Media and their peers. Yes, their peers. One of the primary sources of information is other people.

Jeffrey Gitomer, sales trainer, author and speaker, has said, “Your customers are judging every aspect of every transaction and rating everything, from friendliness of people to ease of doing business to quality of product to service after the sale.”

September 2019 Update

Greetings from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We have settled into our new home and are getting more involved in our community and family. Looking forward to leaf-peeping season.

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Autumn is getting closer, and that means apples in north Georgia. There are plenty of orchards that allow visitors to pick their own. Check out this apple-picking article.

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North Georgia is also becoming known for its vineyards. What? Georgia wine? It’s not NAPA, but it’s pretty good. Two of our favorite wineries are Montaluce, near Dahlonega, and Engelheim Vineyards, near Ellijay. At Montaluce, you’ll feel like you’re in Tuscany. Upscale dining overlooking the vineyard. A couple of years ago at a wine tasting in Dahlonega, we met Gary Engel. He’s a retired US Army Colonel who decided to purchase the land that is now known as Engelheim (German for “Angel Home”) in 2007. The Engel family planted their first vines in 2009 and harvested their first vintage in 2011; Engelheim Vineyards has been going strong ever since.

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By the way, If you like mysteries set in wine country, you’ll enjoy Ellen Crosby’s books.

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Know anyone who wants to be a flight attendant? Delta Air Lines announced that it plans to hire 1,000 new flight attendants in 2020. Last time it made such an announcement it received over 35,000 video applications. 

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I’m toying with the idea of producing an audio version of Justice in Jackson, the second book in the Mississippi Mysteries Series. As I reread my work, I was surprised to find that many of the well-known places mentioned in the book in 1997 were no longer there or have substantially changed. Here are a dozen places that meet that description: Deposit Guaranty Bank/Plaza, the University Club, the IOF Building, the Edison Walthall Hotel, the Harvey Hotel, the Landmark Center, the Subway Lounge/Summers Hotel, Frank’s World Famous Biscuits, the King Edward Hotel, Olde Thyme Delicatessen, Dennery’s Restaurant, and the “Welcome to Mississippi” highway sign.How many of your community’s icons have gone away?

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How much is a business worth? In a recent column, I examine a few different methods of valuing an ongoing business. Before doing so, allow me to share a personal story. It’s about my grandfather. 

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REMINDER: feel free to share and refer others who might want to receive these updates. Have them email phil@philhardwick.com and enter SUBSCRIBE in the subject line. I do not share my email list.

***** SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT 
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.Vince Lombardi

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Until next time,
Phil

2019 July/August Update

Phil Hardwick
2019 July/August UPDATE

Carol and I are now ensconced in our new home in north Georgia in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Movers unloaded our household two weeks ago. By day, we are still unpacking. By evening, we are trying out restaurants in the area. We are excited about our new stage in life, especially being close to our four grandchildren.

Speaking of moving, the 2018 Migration Report by North American Van Lines  reveals that Idaho, Arizona, South Carolina, and Tennessee led the nation in the Inbound category, while Illinois, California and New Jersey topped the Outbound list. 

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Selling our house in Jackson, which we lived in for 26 years, was an overall positive experience. It was on the market only five days after we listed it with Dale Cook of Nix-Tann Realtors. Kudos to Dale and to Jenny Price of Neighbor House, who represented the buyer. True professionals.

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I have one movie poster in my new home office for inspiration for my writing of mysteries.It’s “A Touch of Evil,” starring Charlton Heston, Orson Wells, and Janet Leigh. It’s autographed by Janet Leigh. Carol and I had the honor and pleasure of being her escort when she visited Jackson, Mississippi several years ago as part of a Smithsonian project. A gracious lady. She will probably be remembered most for the shower scene in the movie “Psycho.”

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My website, www.philhardwick.com has a description of every book in the Mississippi Mysteries series. Someone asked me about my favorite murder weapon. It’s not a gun or a knife. It’s a common over-the-counter medication that a wife used to kill her husband. She put it into his banana pudding. More can be found in Conspiracy in Corinth. Oh yes, the medication is Acetaminophen.

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It’s the height of the political season in Mississippi. Did you know that I once ran for public office? Read about the eight things I learned from that experience in my Mississippi Business Journal column.

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As a writer, it is often enlightening and frustrating to break old habits when it comes to the ever-changing rules of the English language. For example, I always remembered that “start” referred to things, such as engines, cars, motors, etc. and that “begin” is about non-mechanical things such as sentences, projects, ideas, etc. Nowadays, start is the new begin. And then there are the pronouns. Gender neutrality and how one feels inside themselves rather than how they were born. Him and himself are definitely out. So is her. It’s now about gender-neutral pronouns. Hmmm.  Imagine what it must be like for students who are learning English as a second language. If you’d like to see a clever three-and-a-half-minute video about pronouns and the current state of confusion, check out  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzNGkwGYE4E.  

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Our grandson’s elementary school is going to use Franklin Covey’s The Leader in Me. The program… “teaches 21st-century leadership and life skills to students and creates a culture of student empowerment based on the idea that every child can be a leader.” First heard about it from Christi Kilroy with the Vicksburg Warren School District, which was one of the first schools in the country to use the program. 

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More than 9,300 people attended this year’s Mississippi Book Festival. This represents record attendance for the five-year-old festival and is an increase of 22 percent from last year.

According to Holly Lange, Festival Executive Director, “More than 245 authors participated in Saturday’s festival, including 170 on 48 official panels and another 75 authors meeting the public in Author’s Alley. I nominate Holly Lange for Mississippian of the Year.

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Finally, why do I prefer an email distribution list? Why not just connect with people on social media?

There are many reasons, but the most important is, I own my list. Also, I do not share your name and email address. 

Your Facebook Page is not owned by you.
Your Twitter account is not owned by you.
Your YouTube account is not owned by you.
Your Pinterest followers aren’t owned by you.
Your Instagram followers aren’t owned by you.

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LOOKING AHEAD – Novel writing software review

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SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

When making plans, think big.
When making progress, think small.

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Until next month,

Phil

The Importance of Design

(Mississippi Business Journal online edition)

June 14, 2019

What do the television shows Property Brothers, Flip or Flop, Masters of Flip and Fixer Upper have in common?

Answer: They are the most watched home decorator shows of all time.

Watch any of those shows, or any similar shows on television, and you’re likely to hear the term “design” used quite a bit. Design, which is the process of creating something based on a plan, is becoming an in-thing.  It’s about time.  What was once available to only those who could afford architects has now come to us mortal souls.

There is no longer any doubt about it.  Design, has finally become regarded as the important aspect of life that it is.  I know this because CBS Sunday Morning, my favorite television program, has had an annual design show each year for the past few years.  I also know this because schools of design are popping up all over the place.  In most cases, these schools are tied in with a school of art or architecture.

Good design can sometimes be so subtle it’s hardly noticed.  When traffic flows smoothly, for example, it is taken for granted.  But let the merge lane be too short or the signage too confusing, and bad design is evident in all its ugly glory.  Traffic circles are a good example.  If they work, then it is good design; if they do not, then it is a bad design.

Although design is ubiquitous, it is in our homes where we can really appreciate it, perhaps because we spend so much time there.  I live in a house that was built in 1959.  It was designed for 1959.  It has a formal living room, for example.  It also has a hot water at the opposite end of the house from the bathrooms.  I have not done anything about having to wait an extra minute for hot water in the bathroom, but the formal living room has been opened up by removing most of a wall and installing a new countertop and bar.  Houses are good examples of the effect on design and vice versa because our living spaces seem to be constantly evolving.  Master bedrooms are huge in most new houses, and master bathrooms nowadays have become something that the Roman rulers would be envious of.

Interior design is all the rage these days.  In case you have not noticed, just turn on the television and see how many so-called makeover programs are on the schedule.  And let us not forget feng shui.  Feng means wind, and Shui means water in Chinese. The two things affect the weather and weather affects our energy.  Thus, where a house is located and the direction it faces can impact our rhythm and energy. If the house is in alignment or in rhythm with the landscape, a good healthy life force is created. Consultants are now available to design a house using these principles.

Design continually affects the devices and appliances we use in our houses.  From vacuum cleaners to washers and dryers, there seems to be a constant redesign to make things better or maybe more in tune with the times.  Even dust rags and paper towels are part of the process.  There is now a plastic tub of Clorox cleaning rags for the counter and something called Swifters for those hard to get to places where dust hides.

One wonders whether older was better.  Seaside, Florida has a motto that reads, “The New Town. The Old Ways.”  New urbanism is about designing communities to be walkable and diverse.  Indeed the charter of charter of the Congress for the New Urbanism states in part, “…urban places should be framed by architecture and landscape design that celebrate local history, climate, ecology, and building practice.”

Design principles, especially residential ones,  have even become universal.  I know that because I discovered the Universal Design Project. Its website, universaldesign.org, states that  America has a housing problem. It also offers a solution, as follows: 

“There aren’t enough universally accessible options. We envision a world where everyone has a functional and affordable place to live. But before that can happen, those places have to be designed.”  The solution is to facilitate collaboration between design professionals (e.g., residential architects, interior designers), health professionals (e.g. occupational therapists, rehabilitation engineers, environmental gerontologists), and our advisory group of individuals who have life experience with disability. The purpose of doing so is to include all the necessary perspectives in discussions about design decisions.”

Perhaps it is time we appreciate and understand more the role that design plays in our lives and the contributions of designers, whether they be architects, engineers, artists or others.

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11 Things I’ve Learned About Economic Development

11 Things I’ve Learned about Economic Development

During my still active career in economic and community development, I’ve learned quite a few things. Some, but not all, are listed below. These are just the first ones that came to mind. 

1. Economic development is all about jobs.Even though the textbook definition of the term is, “… the process of increasing the economic wealth of a community,” almost all economic developers see their role as doing that by creating, increasing and retaining jobs. The press releases and the websites tout number of jobs created more than just about anything else. That’s because jobs, especially good paying jobs drive most economies. A job not only brings money to a community, but it also provides self-worth and security to individuals. 

2. Communities and organizations are perfectly structured for the outcomes they are getting. Many community leaders seem to be waiting for something to happen to their communities before making adjustments. For example, they hope that the state will bring a project or that some company will discover them. If that’s true, then nothing is going to change unless the structures are changed. That could mean a change in leadership, procedure or organization. Something that is very difficult to do because it often means that someone has to give up something.

3. Leadership really matters.Indeed, it seems to be the one thing that differentiates the communities that thrive versus those that do not.

4. Accountability is one of the keys to economic development success.  I have facilitated dozens of strategic planning retreats. Often, I go back to the organization six months or a year later and ask about the outcomes. What I usually found is that almost all the goals were achieved or very few or none were achieved. Why such a big difference? What I discovered is that the goals that were most often achieved were the ones where someone was held accountable. 

5. Measuring things is very important.The six Total Quality Management concepts are customer focus, leadership, teamwork, continuous improvement, measurement and benchmarking. Although each is important, it begins with measurement. If economic development is the process of increasing the wealth of a community then wealth should be measured. But which wealth metrics?  Employment statistics, sales tax collections and property values are just three things that should be measured. Assessed valuation of real property can be tricky to measure if there’s a lot of off-the-books property such as government and other exempt real estate. I recommend the model used by the Commission on the future of Northeast Mississippi.  Each year the 17 counties in the region meet to share a variety of measurements. “These findings are used to produce the annual State of the Region report and to set annual goals to measure our successes,” states their purpose.

6. Successful economic developers know that it doesn’t matter who gets the credit. Have you noticed that at those groundbreaking ceremonies it is the economic developers who are in the background? Good economic developers know that they are facilitators of the process and that others, usually elected officials, who have a critical role.

7. Partnerships and collaboration are essential.Just take a look at any successful economic development project.

8. Economic development is long-term and incremental. There are no magic bullets. 

9. It’s a lot about location, location, location.Did you know that over half of all jobs in Mississippi are in only 11 counties? According to the October 2018 Mississippi Department of Employment Security Labor Market Report, there were 1,219,300 persons employed in the state. Divide that by two and the result is 609,650. If one then adds the number of jobs in each county beginning with the county with the most jobs (Hinds – 105,990, when the 11th county (Lafayette – 26,820) is added the result is 611,840. By the way, some of my heroes in economic development are those who work in poor, lowly populated counties that have very little chance of ever landing a big project. In one sense, they do more with what they have than others in urban areas where interstate highways intersect. 

10. Connections are important. Successful economic developers go to conferences and events. They know each other, they know site selectors and they stay up-to-date on everything related to their profession.

11. Successful communities visit other cities and regions to see how it can be done. Taking a group of business and community leaders to a successful city or region can be inspirational and provide a good roadmap for the future. Unfortunately, one mistake that some make is to attempt to recreate the other city instead of using their own unique asset.