Friday, December 9, 2011

This is only a re-post, but it is an essential thing to do. Secure family support before you start your business.

Prepare your family

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Where do you get your ideas?

Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The honest artist answers, “I steal them.”

1.) Steal like an artist. 
2.) Don’t wait until you know who you are to start making things. 
3.) Write the book you want to read. 
4.) Use your hands. 
5.) Side projects and hobbies are important. 
6.) The secret: do good work and put it where people can see it. 
7.) Geography is no longer our master. 
8.) Be nice. The world is a small town. 
9.) Be boring. It’s the only way to get work done. 
10.) Creativity is subtraction.

Better yet, read from the artist I stole this from:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Offshore Incubator. Literally offshore.

Does location matter?

This is crazy. I like it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Employee Engagement in the Post-Edsel era

Employee engagement goes beyond loyalty. It is simply the degree of satisfaction employees feel with the organization, or the measure of the relationship an organization has with its employees. Sort of. Anyway, now the field is entering the modern age.

The Edsel has been held up for over four decades as the worst marketing blunder of all time. It really was not. Seriously. The product research morphed into Ford's next cars, particularly the Mustang. From a marketing standpoint, the Edsel event occurred just as the world was transforming into a new era. Prior to that moment, customers were segmented by social class: the market provided a Cadillac for the upper class, and a Chevy for the less affluent (maybe a Buick in the middle?) Ford wanted to compete with GM in the higher range, so spent swimming pools full of cash to develop and market it. It seemed that the marketing flopped. What they learned from the incident is that people were no longer limiting themselves to purchasing based on salary level. They were categorizing themselves into lifestyle groupings.

This concept has progressed to the point that marketers now rely more on psychographics than on demographics.  We might now be ready to adopt that knowledge to the human capital development field.

David Richardson, when he was head of Tesco’s Employee Insight Unit divided employees up into several categories, such as: "Pleasure seekers," "Work/life balance," "Want it alls," "Work to lives." (Though he would probably not approve of putting the period/full stop at the end of that last sentence within the quotation marks.) Tesco was seeking to make employees happier, and realized that they didn't all have the same priorities (see Sarah Butcher, Financial Times; Jul 07, 2003). A person might be most concerned about promotion when joining, but after accumulating a family and a mortgage, the same person moved into the "work-to-live" group. Later, they might become either pleasure seekers or become most concerned about work/life balance.

I would be concerned if we automatically categorized people into such groups based on age, but the news is good. We may finally be pulling ourselves out of the slavish dependence on demographics for decision making. People, it turns out, are more complicated than we thought they were. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where is the Nauvoo Commuter?

Huge apology.

I am currently working on a PhD, and have been reading rooms full of books and writing reams of papers. Blogging my experience has taken a back seat.

But a lot of exciting long-term developments in my work to energize rural entrepreneurs need to be reported.

Which I will do as soon as I can.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Out-of-the-box Experience

In 1995, I had been working on a product development team at American Express for over four years. The company had paid half of my tuition for an MBA at the world's top-rated international business program. I called the name of someone in HR asking what they wanted to do with me now that I had gained even more abilities. I was paid so little that I would soon be unable to make student loan payments.

I was told that my skills would be unwelcome because I had no ovaries and my skin color was too light.

So I quit, moved my family overseas, and had many marvelous experiences. Amex continued to promote groupthink by promoting people of various demographics who all shared the same education and background. Their diversity policy discouraged diversity. So the information age passed them by, and the company, while still iften profitable, is not innovative. Diversity SHOULD mean hiring from diverse experience, not diverse skin tones.

If you work for a firm that pushes diversity rather than merit, you might need to create your own diversity policy by exposing yourself to real diversity. Get out of your narrow market and go experience something new. Move overseas and teach English, if you must. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chasing the Rainbow: Startups and Incentives

I was thinking recently: would you rather own stock you bought in early Apple, or in early Netscape? Of course Apple is much more valuable. But Netscape was the get-rich-quick situation. It was the exciting play.

We have forgotten how long it takes to build long-term value. Our thinking has been skewed by stories from the late 1990s like Netscape. Even Google took longer to grow than you might think.

Be patient. And read this article: Chasing the Rainbow: Startups and Incentives: Depending on one's role, the allure of working for a startup is the product you are building, the people you're impacting, or selfishly, ...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thinking long term

Here is the quote of the day, from Gary Vaynerchuck:

"Legacy always trumps currency."

The question is regarding how important long-term buildout is compared to short-term profit. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writing about Writing

Here is the purpose of this blog.

The Nauvoo Commuter works to give tools and encouragement to rural entrepreneurs and to their supporters in their communities.

I wanted to use the word "endeavor" for "work" and "empower" for "give encouragement." But my goal for today is to keep the jargon simple in everything I do.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Idea, Part III

If so many great ideas take place in the shower, why don't we institutionalize the platform? Can we discover what it is about the shower and isolate that variable?

Is it the hot water, the relaxation, or spending time without the ability to do anything else that might distract?

Just a thought I had while in the shower.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Idea, Part II

Here are some more Osborn questions you can ask for brainstorming.

Go back to the original idea you liked of a business being run in a more populated region. Now ask some questions about how you could change it to be appropriate for your situation. First, remember the three rules:

1) Never criticize any comments, including your own
2) Stay detached: view the situation as though you were a consultant, not the person who will execute on the ideas.
3) Allow creativity: think of how any question could apply from various angles and write down the ideas

Now, here are some questions to ask about possible ways of changing the idea.

Can you MAGNIFY the idea:
Add something? More time? Greater frequency? Stronger? Higher? Longer? Thicker? Extra value? Add an ingredient? Duplicate? Multiply? Exaggerate?

Try this as an exercise. I challenge you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Writing a Book – Marketing And Promotion

We interrupt this series to share a blog posting from uber-guru Chris Brogan on marketing the book you write.

Writing a Book – Marketing And Promotion: "Shoot"

The Idea

In this forum we have consistently held to the belief that "the idea" is only one percent of success. Seeking just the right business idea is, more often than not, a way of avoiding implementation. But because (1) that one percent is still important, and (2) because finding business models that will work in low-population regions is more challenging, we have occasionally devoted space to mentioning specific ideas.

For the next few days, we will talk about the idea generation process. We'll introduce some models that have been used for years.

In a quiet place where you won't be interrupted, do some pondering.


Find a good idea that is being implemented as a business in another region, preferably in a big city. Think of how you can come up with your own idea based on it. First, a modified Alex F. Osborn model.

How can you adapt:
What else is like this? Does the past offer parallels? What could you copy What other idea does this suggest?

Write down an answer to each of those questions. Mind-mapping as a recording style is probably ideal.

Now set that paper aside. Think about the original idea.

Next Line of Questioning, how can you modify the idea:
A new twist? Can you change the meaning, color, motion, sound, odor, form, or shape? Can you think of any other possible changes?

Have you produced an idea? Try doing the same thing with some other people. Friends can help you, but disinterested people would be better.

These ideas are from the Father of Brainstorming.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Follow Your Passion

Recently, any self-help guru you give starts with this advice: "Find your passion. The motivation and success will follow."

But finding that passion is more difficult than it sounds. Some people discover it early. But for almost everyone else, it is a wild goose chase. For most people it requires trying lots of things, and that can take many years. Sometimes that is too late. Sometimes those many years on a crooked road can lead to tremendous frustration. Folks can wonder if their "passion" exists.

My advice is, and has always been, to do the opposite. 

Find a thing you can do competently. Then become passionate about that thing. Gradually develop expertise in a tiny area of that thing. (Hopefully that expertise will be in an area that nobody else wants to do.)

I am not saying "finding your passion" is impossible or is unwise in hard times. In any environment it is not the best strategy unless you are one of the lucky few who fall into it. Everyone else can look for it, but don't sit on your hands until you find it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Chicken and the Pig

Over the past 15 years, I have assisted hundreds of people to rebuild their careers. I have created multimillionaires out of six people.

In the beginning, I usually share with consultees the Parable of the Pig and Chicken.

A pig and a chicken were roommates, but neither were employed and they needed some money for rent. So they headed out to 'pound the pavement' early one morning.  
The pair passed a restaurant with an advert in the window: HAM AND EGGS, $4.50.
The chicken became excited. "That is our new plan! We can do this! You have ham, and have eggs. We can sell breakfast sets."
"That sounds fine for you," Pig responded. "For you it is a contribution, but for me it is a full commitment." 

And that is my contract with you. I make a contribution to help you. But you will be making a full commitment.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"To Boost the Economy, Help the Self-Employed"

That is the title of an article in this week's BusinessWeek, a publication with an editorial policy that is slightly left leaning, but more balanced than most national publications.

"Freelancers, contractors, and consultants are essential to the economy. It’s time to repeal outdated regulations that hold them back."

We can comment on this later, but you should read the article here.

This issue is key to what we are discussing in this forum. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Professional

Following World War Two, many refugees started new lives in America. They encouraged their children to become doctors and lawyers, even though they had been entrepreneurs in Europe.

"The regime in power can take your business, but they can't take what's in your head," the immigrants told their children. So they sent their children to universities to learn professions. It was a risk-management strategy, in case the government tried to take their income-earning capacity the way other totalitarian governments  had. So their children became physicians, attorneys, dentists, accountants, and other types of professionals.

Is this an indictment of what were are endorsing in this forum? Certainly not. It is just a reminder that the most important assets are those in your head. I'm writing this while in the waiting room of a dentist, who is in private practice. That makes him an entrepreneur, after all.

You can succeed as an entrepreneur through hard work and luck, but having an intellectual asset is better.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tie In

What are the beliefs of your market? Glenn Beck has done an excellent job of gathering conspiracy believers. He tied his message into their existing beliefs, and rallied them.  Keith Olberman built a myth about himself, his experience, and his motivations. He was quite successful until he got caught. Different markets, similar strategy.

In your business, you don't have to appeal to political extremes, because many other types of beliefs are floating along, waiting for someone to increase their velocity.

Let's say you sell sporting goods to people in a small town. Maybe your message can reaffirm a belief in the moral superiority of rural residents (the hardy yeoman of English fable who are the reservoir of positive values.) Do you sell country crafts on the internet? Then build a myth about their origin, based on a generational belief that handmade goods are better quality or that they connect us with our ancestors.

Belief systems take a long time to build. So don't invent a new belief, or your efforts will only benefit fur businesses.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Its a Small World After All

We know longer need to live in San Francisco to be creative.

We can develop knowledge networks. An entrepreneur in Tulsa, Oklahoma can share know-how with a community organization in Rio. Here are some points to consider:

 - Don't reinvent the wheel, but look for solutions others
   have created for the same problem by
 - formal networks, on the net, are better; informal ones
   rarely last
 - points should be given to those who contribute more
      - those with enough points would be given a higher rating

This issue will receive more air time in future postings.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


In 1972, psychologist Rollo May said:
     “Joy is the zest that you get out of using your talents, your 
      understanding, the totality of your being, for great aims…
      That’s the kind of feeling that goes with creativity. That’s 
      why I say the courage to create.

      Creation does not come out of simply what you’re born with. 
      That must be united with your courage, both of which cause 
      anxiety but also great joy.”

A lot has been said recently about creativity. Here are my two firm beliefs on the topic:

  1) Creativity is about creating something, usually a new solution, not just about making or saying something weird.
  2) Creating makes us healthier.

If you are depressed, create something. Find a barrier in your business or in your life, and find a new way around it. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Are you still stupid?

A belief that I am exceptionally impatient with is the idea that country folk are less intelligent than city folk.

I believe it is not only bigoted, but inaccurate. I believe that per capita, the opposite might be true. Sure, big cities have architects, artists, high-powered lawyers, and captains of industry. But they also have huge populations of people around whom you should never make sudden movements.

Small towns also have people who are struggling. But they have many smart people. I've seen them. 

Kicking the can down the road only makes the can bigger

In Argentina, the government fined nine economic research companies the peso equivalent of $122,000. Their crimes? They reported the actual inflation rate. The Argentine government annual wage hikes of 20 to 30 percent, but holds that the inflation rate is still in the nine percents.

Has this tactic slowed the actual inflation rate? We think not. The truth cannot be stopped, but it can be muffled for a while with tactics like these.

If you are starting or operating a business on Planet Earth, you should have a strategy for dealing with potential inflation. Buying futures, or stockpiling inventory, or locking in low interest rates, or some other plan would be prudent to at least consider.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The new media is the old media

In the old days, newspapers in America were partisan. If you were a Democrat, you read your city's Democrat-leaning paper, and Republicans read the other one. They were open about it.

Then the 1960s came along, and the media began advertising that they were fair and balanced. Almost without exception, media outlets were left leaning, but called themselves balanced. That is why people hate Fox News: they are not part of the system. They should be team players and lean left while calling themselves fair.

Perhaps Fox, as well as talk radio, are part of a larger trend. We may be going back to partisan news sources. Instead of pretending to be balanced, news sources will all pander to a particular audience, as Fox does, and as MSNB (the Fox of the Left) does. Media gatekeepers are coming out in the open about the agendas they are pushing.

Is this because we no longer believe in being balanced? Or is it because media gatekeepers are becoming less relevant, so they are becoming louder to be heard? We no longer need people to filter the news to tell us what they think we should hear. And those gatekeepers are nervous. "If you can't be good, be good at it," is their mantra. Meawhile, and Huffington Post and blogs are leaving NYT and CBS in the past century. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Best-case scenario

American Express almost put itself out of business, twice, by being unprepared for the response to new initiatives. Once, they sent direct mail to customers announcing the creation of a new charge card, a way that they could shop without cash. The response was so overwhelming they could not keep up with the demand. Customers were unhappy, and the brand was almost destroyed. Or so I was told when I worked for Amex in the early 1990s.

When planning bold businesses, we often make contingencies for potential downside risk. "Worst-case scenario, we'll only sell 12 million units. We are exuberant, so we describe a scenario far better than the real worst-case scenario.

But how often do we prepare for an outcome so grand it could instantly suck up all our resources and leave us unable to keep commitments?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where do you stand regarding Sturgeon's Law?

Theodore Sturgeon was a science fiction writer until his death in 1985. He is known for what we now call Sturgeon's Law, in effect, "90 percent of everything is crud."

True, 90 percent of science fiction writing is crud, but so are 90 percent of television shows,  electrician output, photocopy machine repairs, carpet colors, and--certainly--standup comedy.

The ten percent are special. They shine. We should all strive to be in the ten percent.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Ode to the Country Life

A central premise if the Nauvoo Commuter is that starting a business in a rural area has several large disadvantages over starting a business in a creative urban center, and you need to be aware of those, but you should focus on the advantages, which do exist.

Occasionally we list ideas of ventures that might fit well into a rural situation. Here are three more:

 - sell local flora (Prairie Tumbleweeds ships tumbleweeds
   worldwide for decorations and movie sets, $25 plus shipping)
 - courier (because logistics infrastructure is not as strong in
   your area)
 - shuttle driver for elderly (or for Amish families)

Go for it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cut fat out of the whole political economy, or at least your community.

Western society has spent the past 50 years asking "why not?," which has brought some remarkable innovation. Perhaps it is time for a decade of asking "why?," so we could start questioning why we have the institutions and practices we do.

This would be sort of like zero-based budgeting for the whole work-flow of our society.
Implementing all the great ideas of the past 50 years has added a lot of economic and lifestyle friction to our lives.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sure, we have brain drain, but we keep growing more brains

Few entrepreneurs have influenced Web 2.0 as much Evan Williams. He started blogger, which was sold to Google. (He invented the word blogger.) His most recent move was to start Twitter. This guy doesn't just innovate, he changed the world. Twice.

Guess which creative urban center calls Evan Williams a native? The answer: Clarks, Nebraska (population 361, according to Wikipedia.) When he lived there, the community had one K-12 school. Williams moved irrigation pipes on the family farm before moving to the technology sector, spent some time back on the farm, then changed the world. (He did need to leave the farm, but he was smart before he left.)

So, latte-sippers who says Midwest farmers are backward have apparently never heard of Blogger or Twitter. And this is not an isolated story.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The meek will inherit your market share

You can find almost 2,600 titles on just on motivation. Books abound about how to be more assertive, more confident, more ambitious. It is time someone spoke up for humility. 

Japanese don't innovate. Instant ramen is the sole invention from Japan. And that's okay. They just admit they don't know everything and learn--religiously--from others.  Detroit, which has been creating most of the innovation, yet losing market share. They were not humble enough to learn from Asia, and they sometimes lacked humility toward customers. After living 14 years in Japan, I don't believe that Japanese products are necessarily higher quality. But being modest is certainly serving them well.

Amazon (an internet seller you may have heard of) is meek in the way they interact with customers. They don't assume they know the hearts of consumers better than the consumers themselves.  They talk to customers respectfully. They try different products and promotions, and let customers decide if they like those products. And Amazon doesn't need to control both the hardware and software. If Apple and Sony or anyone else wants to create a device to directly compete with Kindle, that is fine. No ultimatums about "no room in Dodge City for both of us," and no gunslinging in the street. "Here, have our reader app for free," they respond. "Feel welcome to read kindle books on your PC or smartphone."

Humility is the foundational virtue. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Art on the Prairie

If I lived in a rural area, and if I were an artist (music, painting, drawing, sculpture, pottery, etc.), I would keep the art as a hobby, and keep the day job. 

Someone wants to make a lot of money, and has the talent, so "why not be 50 Cent or Neil Diamond and make art full time?" The temptation for people is to think "if I make a million with my music, I won't have to work, and can spend time with my family." But that (1) turns the music into a "job." And (2) it forces people to take shortcuts. Also, (3) it makes people impatient. "I'm not making enough money yet!" 

If art is a hobby--a diligent, perform-every-week, consistent hobby--then it will grow like a mustard tree. You'll be surprised at the outcome.

The Bad Artist

Tonight I advised a friend of mine, a musician about launching his career.

I asked him to invite people to his home every month and perform for them. Create a show that positively evolves over time. But rain or shine, illness or busyness, keep performing. Don't stop for any reason. On the first Sunday of each month, perform for a group which, hopefully, rotates.

My advice is that the artist who does not perform is no different from the non-artist, the person with no talent. So we don't have bad artists, just those who do and those who don't.

Friday, July 8, 2011

What happened to the Nauvoo Commuter?

This blog used to post daily. It has now trickled to two or three times a week.


Read Steven Pressfield's Do the Work, and you'll know the answer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dear Mr. Schwan Man

The Schwan Man visited our house today. His real title is " Route Sales Representative," but he calls himself Schwan Man. In fact, "Schwan Man" is his greeting, sales pitch, and sales closing. When I opened the door, he only said those two words, and left them hanging in the air, allowing me to interpret his objective as he stared at the porch below his feet. Even a smile would have helped him. 

I wonder if Schwan trains their reps. This is the job description:

   "As a Route Sales Representative, you will drive the widely 
    recognized SCHWAN’S truck to sell and deliver more than 
    300 varieties of frozen foods to families around the area. Your 
    drive and ambition can go a long way toward your ability to 
    meet the needs of current customers, secure new customers, 
    and in defining what you earn through the real earning potential 
    of sales commissions."

I assumed he earns some sort of commission, but perhaps not. Covered are his medical, dental, and even tuition (are they hoping he'll start training to be an accountant because they can't believe he will stick to his "Route Sales Representative" job long term?) and some other goodies. The recruiting literature seems to indicate they try to recruit people who want safety.

If the company had trained and motivated him, perhaps our rep would have said, "I'm your Schwan Man, and I am here to fill your freezer with things that bring joy, such as this week's special..." But they didn't, so he didn't. 

We still ordered a few things, but we still have space in our freezer.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Original settlers of what became the United States envisioned the land being "a city set on a hill." The nation would be an example of religious liberty and righteousness. 

Is the country still fulfilling that mission? Or are we too concerned with avoiding exceptionalism? Or do we no longer believe in religious liberty?

Belief systems are far more diverse than in the past. And I don't know if they can all be reconciled into a single unifying system. 

But perhaps a new awakening is on the way. Let's stay tuned. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

In this forum, we are trying to develop the:

 - individual
 - community
 - region

Do these goals stand in opposition to each other? Do they complement each other? Certainly a strong individual in a weak region has an easier time being a genius (reference St. Ambrose, who was considered to be a super genius because he could read without moving his lips.) But an individual or community in a super-region has more opportunities for leveraging ideas, capital, encouragement, and role models. 

Living in a less-developed region is not a success killer. It is just different. 

Another item for your "To-Don't" list

If you are still putting together a to-don't list, as you should, one thing you should definitely add is:

"Listen to criticism from your neighbors, because you might learn
a lot about yourself"

Most of your neighbors, in fact, probably have no understanding of what you are trying to accomplish. Some might, and you will eventually be able to discern between those who "get it" and those who do not. Ignore the second group, even though they are the majority. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Promises, Commitments, and Deals

You make promises to your family. "My new business will not prevent me from spending time with the family."

You make commitments to customers. "We will ship the same day you order."

You make deals with your neighbors. "My business won't make noise or annoy your household."

What do you do when these commitments reach conflict? Shipping on time infringes on family time, or arriving home late from a family vacation puts shipping behind schedule. Construction of your home office disturbs the neighbors.

Deciding at the beginning of the business is better than later.

I have walked away from a total of $1.5 million by making family time the top priority. I'm not sure I made the right decision. I hope I did. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

If you live in Chicago and work in a creative profession, you have lot of people who give you constructive feedback, encourage you, and keep you on track. They help you keep the commitments you've made to yourself.

In a small country town, people may prefer you to not makes waves. They may not understand what you are trying to do. They might be suspicious, and some might even be envious and upset your ambition is revealing their abandoned projects.

That is okay. You also have people who are genuine, people you can trust. You can get the feedback from your online community.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pluralism in America

Bill Clinton claimed he would assemble a Cabinet that looked like America. So he chose six people of various skin tones who were ideological clones of himself. They all had almost identical education, beliefs, thought patterns, worldviews, and skills. Only skin color varied. Groupthink is not diversity.

The situation 20 years later is very different.

Prior to the Civil War, some Christian pastors would incite their congregations to rape and torture Mormons in the neighborhood. Kidnapping the children, shooting the men, and burning their houses was "God's work," they taught. Now two Mormons are among the top candidates for U.S. president. That is some progress.

(Of course, 3,556 people are considering running for the GOP nomination so far.)  Diversity can challenge us and make us better, both in our businesses and in our personal lives, but it needs to be real diversity. 

Working from Home

How can you work from home when you have children? I have not found a way to successfully do so.

The risk is that you do both working and parenting poorly.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kids and Entrepreneurship

Do you want your child to become mogul?

A June 13th Wall Street Journal article by Barbara Haislip gives a list of suggestions for teaching entrepreneurial skills to children. The author wants children to develop the following attributes:

Dependable and Stable
Team Player
Lead by Example

I'm not sure if the author is entrepreneurial or has successful children, but the concept of teaching children to successfully build businesses is intriguing. This is the key point: teaching technical business skills is not nearly as important as developing certain personality and character traits.

What traits to you think are foundational for entrepreneurial success?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Bootstrapped Business Feature

A wood shop teacher, Stephan Willner, wanted to start a business. He was aware that some schools in his region were dropping wood-shop programs. 

So he bought an old school bus, ripped out the seats, and made it into a mobile school and teaches woodworking to children. 

This post is our applause to Willner. See his site.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Democrats vs. Republicans

A couple of months ago, our town held city council elections. Candidates were required to campaign in primaries, declaring themselves to be either a Republican or a Democrat. I think this is ridiculous.

City councils deal with local issues: zoning, garbage collection, annoying neighbors, how to run a city on the tiny funds left after states and counties have taken all the monies they want. They do not deal with abortion, foreign policy, or whether or not to destroy the national currency and impoverish the citizenry by overprinting money. City councils do not raise armies and procure battleships to defend their borders.

By forcing a candidate to identify with national party platforms, they may alienate the voters with whom the candidate most closely agrees.

"I'm glad Mabel promised to lower taxes and prevent dogs from biting joggers, but she's a Democrat, so she believes in using taxpayer money to kill children."

"Henry will fix the roads and stop corruption, but he's a Republican so he might halt my adult magazine subscription. Better vote for the other guy."

Of course no one thinks about it that overtly, but the identification does create a little doubt. Unfortunately, this practice is actually quite common in the U.S. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Blogging for Free

Here at the Nauvoo Commuter, we publish a regular blog and ask for no money. That's fine. It would be a little weird if we did.

I am advising my daughter on starting a business. One option is to follow the course suggested by a prominent incubator: start a free service. After a large number of people are hooked, then find a way to monetize it. You can offer an upgraded (premium) pay service, offer advertising space, sell other information, etc. But you monetize only after the system becomes an institution.

This is something YOU can do.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The quote of the day comes from Jeff Bezos: “you can’t put into a spreadsheet how people are going to behave around a new product.” 

I believe that our over-reliance on proforma tools is caused by our fear of failure. They are either attempts to control the future, or to predict it in order to prevent failure.

But you really can't see how a potential product or service will work unless you can watch a customer, in a natural purchasing setting, decide whether or not to purchase the product. If it doesn't work, then try adjusting the value proposition by changing the price, distribution method, or how you advertise. If it still doesn't work, then scrap the product or service rather than launching it on a full scale. If you don't launch it, then move on to the next idea.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sustainable Frugality

Or would calling it Frugal Sustainability be more appropriate?

Creative accounting might indicate the recession is over, but the real results of recession: unemployment, general uncertainty, etc. linger. Further, since Central Banks had each attempted to cure a hangover with massive consumption of whiskey, intoxication remains. You can't cure a debt problem by multiplying the rate of borrowing.

So perhaps your next business plan should involve assisting people through both economically stagnant and resource-depleted scenarios.

 - Selling wood heating stoves or becoming a Chimney Sweep
 - Re-upholstering
 - Recycling
 - Upcycling
 - As people are reluctant to purchase real estate, try home repair or
   remodeling (help people "love the one you're with")
 - Sell mopeds
 - Teach homesteading
 - Develop a farmers market

"Use it up, where it out, make do, or do without," as they used to say in frugal times of earlier generations. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Industrial Recruiting

When a woman has an affair with a married man, and finally convinces him to leave his wife and marry her, she never realizes that when she becomes the new wife, he will eventually cheat on her. "But he loves me. He never loved her." Adultery is rarely based on finding someone you love more. It is based on an illness or character flaw.

As a community leader, you might think you are so attractive with your low wages and educated work force that convincing a corporation to love you more than the current host community is a great idea. But eventually you will be the old wife, and another community with lower wages will woo them away again. Your town will be ex-wife #2. Or #3.

Every professional in the economic development realm seems to now agree that any effort spent recruiting factories to your community is a waste. 

Further, other problems exist with choosing the future of your local economy by 

How can you choose which industry is best suited for your region?
How can you decide which industry will be best situated for coming macro-economic changes?
How can you use taxpayer money to bribe corporations to relocate?

If recruiting factories is dumb, then trying to recruit a low-wage call-center operation is even dumber.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

I Like Pie

Do you view the pie as finite?  If someone gets a larger slice, does that mean your piece will be smaller? Or do you believe that by cooperating with other pie-eaters, you can increase the size of the pie?

This topic has been discussed by several commentators, but it really is a philosophical difference that divides humanity.

If a tourist visit a neighboring town, does that mean you have missed out on that revenue? Or could you work together, multiplying the tourist stream by many times what you could by yourself?

In tourism, the key to community development might be regional development.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


When the Black Death swept across Europe, the scale of death and suffering was so great, and the cause so invisible, that people could not cope with the horror. They needed a scapegoat.

So Jews were often rounded up and killed. It was not rational, but when you need to direct anger away from yourself, a scapegoat can be very convenient. Governments have used Jews for centuries to deflect blame for incompetent governing.

We still do it. The U.S. government created a ginormous credit bubble, then told investment banks they would be protected if they made stupid investment decisions. Those are the two main causes of our current crisis. Of course the people who control the microphones blame deregulation, corporate greed, or other sideline issues. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," the White House yells.

But we also see this problem even in small communities. Local economies are being ripped apart by unstoppable global forces, but unfortunately we often look for local scapegoats to blame. Immigrants, city councils, mayors, racial or religious minorities, infrastructure, brain drain, school principals, climate....

Blame is easier than solvency.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ebay and Socialism

Dar eBay: you are not a monopoly.

Your company continues to act the part of a socialist government, envious of any citizen who turns a profit.

The company learned that some of their sellers are earning profits, and seek to harvest them. So you again raise your rates. Your announcement was couched in doublespeak. More sellers will flee to competitors. And you will raise them again in the future. And lose more sellers that time as well.

Your base might be growing as the market grows, but your share of the market is shrinking. Someday you'll be Chrysler, a company still probably atop the minivan market.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Branding and Socialism

Our community's entrepreneurship committee is working on a project to help local artist's sell their wares. We have been working on a way to help them market their products by combining efforts. Here are some relevant issues:

 - Artist co-ops rarely work. Asking predominantly right-brained people
   to agree on marketing could be difficult.
 - Artists can't imagine that their products are unwanted by consumers.
   Who will tell them and hurt their feelings? The other artists?
 - How can you keep the brand consistent? Various types of art may not
   be compatible within the same brand. Example: will you sell children's
   lullaby collection books alongside pornographic works?

The Animal Farm model is difficult and usually breaks down. The way to succeed is not to sell things that artists want to sell, but to sell things that people want to buy.

The best method is for an independent team to establish a firm, create a brand, then source products from the artists, and sell them. This is the Henry and David model. Pottery Barn would never tell everyone that they can sell anything they want through their store channels. Pottery Barn has buyers, who are expert at understanding consumer wants and buying behaviors, procure what they know will sell.

We plan also to form a "farm club," a group of students and artist hopefuls who can sell their wares through a separate brand as they learn how to respond to customer tastes. That way we respond to the need to help people become self-employed artists without diluting the exclusive brand.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dear parochial seller

Dear Entrepreneur on the Prairie successfully selling your wares on the internet. We congratulate you.

Here are some numbers that will obviously surprise you: two billion people now use the internet. The U.S. population is 300 million (including infants and the infirm). It seems a lot of people outside the U.S. can buy online. Why are you so afraid to sell to them? So afraid of being scammed by Nigerian mobsters that you lump everyone outside the U.S. together, calling them all mobsters?

Buck up, keep a stiff upper lip, and learn how to lower your scam risk. And make money.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Roll the dice on disaster

I recently perused a body of research which indicates that people who look forward to the end of the world are those who feel unsuccessful in the current world. The End will not crush them, but will turn the tables. It will put them on top. "I might be a failure now, but you won't be laughing at me then."

History does not uphold the idea that huge upheavals bring the bottom people to the top. Some mixing up does occur, some people are brought low, but rarely is anyone switched to the top spot in the new order, simply because they were at the bottom before.

The current recession will probably get worse before it gets better. And natural disasters will probably increase in frequency, continuing the trend. But hoping for despair is a gamble of the worst kind. Punishing yourself further now, in the hopes that you will be chosen as a leader in the post-Zombie Apocalypse, is a scenario of such incredible odds that you should not ever consider it. Instead, gamble that the world will get better eventually.

And don't let anyone take advantage of your despair-wish. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Forget Surveys

I am not a proponent of market research. I believe it has three weaknesses:

- People don't know what they like. No one understands themselves, why
  they make certain choices, or what they prefer.
- People don't respond genuinely. To use an example of class evaluations,
  students in my classes don't respond in useful ways. Outliers on both
  ends give feedback about me that "he is the worst teacher in the
  department," and "he is the greatest teacher ever." I receive more positive
  feedback about my wonderful hair than about information about how to
  improve the class. People have different ways of communicating, different
  agendas, and some are are suspicious of surveys.
- People don't understand unless they have a prototype in hand and have
  opportunity to use it in real life. So they need to experience your product
  or service, then decide if they like it. They need to test that new gold club
  by swinging it. They need to eat the food at the restaurant,

Observing people choosing your product from others on the shelf and then using your product--when they think they are not being observed--gives you information you can use.

Start the business, then learn and muddle through until you figure out how to make the business successful, even if success means significantly changing the business. Market research is often a method of procrastinating. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Power of Free became a paid-subscription based news site in 2009. In the first six months, the site attracted 35 subscribers and earned revenue of $9,100. They paid $4,000,000 to design and set up the site. (Source: Mikal Belicove)

This week I am reading Chris Anderson's "FREE: The Future of a Radical Price." The book's contention is that you can often make more money by giving away your product or service for free. The issue is approached from many angles, and covers considerably more than that simplistic synopsis.

Read the book. Consider the implications. Don't be like Newsday. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Taxation and small business

When governments are irresponsible, and develop habits such as taking money from producers in the middle class and using it to buy votes from takers, the money eventually runs out. Cash flow becomes negative.

In those times, small business owners need to alert. Large businesses can take care of themselves. They encourage legislatures in their employ to enact regulations which allegedly protect consumers, but are actually intended to prevent new entrants. It has always been done that way. 

But small businesses will be viewed as cash registers for hungry, desperate legislatures.

So be careful, and be smart. Follow the rules--don't cheat--but play the game as well as you can. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Selflessness and Creativity

Want to be more creative? Of course you do.

Uber-author Dan Pink shared a great story this week, highlighting a recent research report on the topic. Apparently we are more creative when we are solving problems for other people than for ourselves, according to a study conducted by  Evan Polman and Kyle J. Emich. Quoting from the synopsis:

"...In Study 1, participants carried out a structured imagination task by drawing an alien for a story that they would write, or alternatively for a story that someone else would write. As expected, drawing an alien for someone else produced a more creative alien. 
"In Studies 2a and 2b, construal level (i.e., psychological distance) was independently manipulated. Participants generated more creative ideas on behalf of distant others than on behalf of either close others or themselves. 
"In Study 3, a classic insight problem was investigated. Participants deciding for others were more likely to solve the problem; furthermore, this result was mediated by psychological distance. These findings demonstrate that people are more creative for others than for themselves and shed light on differences in self-other decision making." (see the report here.)

In rural areas we have fewer people to help us solve our problems, fewer people on whom to test ideas. That is not a problem, because now they've invented something called the internet. You can connect with peers globally, and solve each other's problems.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Someone might steal your idea

"Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; 
and it giveth light unto all that are in the house."

Be careful, or someone might steal your business idea. Of course, if you focus on protecting your idea, it will not grow. If the thought of someone stealing your idea makes you anxious, then please release yourself from the thought.

Tell people your idea. Ideas are cheap. You might think your idea is so brilliant, but if so, why aren't you making money off of it? You're hiding it under a bushel. Share your idea with as many people as possible.

   - helps investors hear about it
   - commits you to following through (later, you'll be embarrassed if
     you didn't make progress when people ask, "so, what ever 
     happened with that idea?" 
   - gathers potential supporters, allies, and employees

Your biggest competitor is yourself. You can stop you before you've ever begun. Go ahead and spread the idea. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

If by chance you succeed...

If you succeed, if you "knock the cover off the ball," then your life will change.

   Some people will envy you, and stop being your friends.
   Your leisure time will decrease.
   Your stress level will increase.
   Your personal financial risk will increase.
   You might become a selfish workaholic like your father/
      neighbor/role model was.

You might not think you are thinking about the downside of success. But a little person inside you head is afraid of these risks, so will try to stop you from succeeding. That person just wants to protect you. He might be small enough to fit inside your head, but is still powerful. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I define burnout as the state you eventually reach when you give, give, give without receiving. You lose your energy, your passion, your umph.

Most magazines and books on entrepreneurship generally mention advice on avoiding burnout. Take time for yourself, don't push yourself too hard. Communicate with your spouse about expectations. Pace yourself.

But sometimes you will need to push it. You will need to work 24 hours without stopping in order to finish a project under deadline.

Just don't do it too often. Don't pace yourself based on fear.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Tyranny of the Lottery

Public lotteries are the most regressive of taxes: the poor spend a far disproportionate amount of their incomes on lottery tickets.  Lotteries erode the culture of the state, and they are not the most efficient way of earning public revenue.

But they pander to an itch that is alarming. We want a huge payoff for little effort. The lottery mentality, unfortunately, pervades the thought processes of many people.

    "if we could recruit that tire factory to our town, we would solve all of
    our unemployment and tax coffer problems"
    "if I can just get someone to design my site, it will become the next
    "if a very influential tourist were to happen into our town, then we
      would be discovered"

Please, don't be a Lottery Person. Just be diligent, after you get moving in the right direction. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Winning Friends and Influencing People

In the adult world, people hurt our feelings. Sometimes they do it intentionally, sometimes not. But it happens either way.

If you work with a particularly horrible person, they will eventually go away. That is something I have learned over the years: one of you will quit or be fired or be transferred.

But the community is not a company. You live near each other. If someone hurts your feelings, or if you hurt someone else, you will likely have to live with that person for a very long time. Your children might attend school together. So be tough, and be sensitive. Don't let people hurt you, and be careful about how you communicate.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


These thoughts apply to anyone whose business name contains the name of their town, or anyone trying to build the town's own brand.

Brands and like plants. They want two things: nurturing and time. Also, brands don't like being stomped on by careless hikers.

So you nurture your brand, the way Steve Jobs developed the Apple brand. You care for it, love it, feed it. And you are patient.

In your situation, an extra risk exists. A careless person in your community might harm the brand.

I have a friend who lives in a very small town. For a while, when he introduced himself and where he was from, people would say, "Farmington? Isn't that where that teacher was sent to prison for, how do they say it, inappropriate behavior with children?" He wanted to stand up and yell, "no, it is where we have a wonderful farmer's market, and we have exceptional historic sites!"

But all he could do was to wait. The incident tarnished the town name, and the brands of anyone who used the town name as a brand, then eventually the mud splattered all over the town reputation washed off in subsequent rainstorms. The brand now shines again.

Be patient.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


You only have enough funding for one program. But several projects need cash to launch.

So we are often tempted to create a program, build a facility, or plan an event that covers several potential projects. It becomes like a spork.

A spork is a combination of spoon and fork. Fast food restaurants sometimes provide them, but they are more cost effective than providing both for salads and soups. But the talked-up spork is not excellent at anything. We often end up trying to cut our steak with a spork, rather than reaching for a knife.

Multi-use programs sound attractive, but for a tough steak you want a real knife. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Long Term

Here is an addendum to yesterday's post. 

If you are want to replicate the success of Austin, Texas by doing what they did 40 years ago, it means you might not see the fruits of your efforts this year. Or next year. By the time you create a community that others try to emulate, you might be dead. 

John Maynard Keynes was quite a quotable bloke, but his most famous quote was that "in the long run we are all dead."

That is why all governments use the bandage approach to governing, rather than creating long-term value. Voters insist on immediate improvement, so politicians give them cosmetic solutions. The politicians themselves probably want to see some value in their labor before they die, so they go along with the pressure for short-term results.

As a community leader, you have the same choice. You can build libraries, which build minds, which build businesses. Or you can organize monthly swap meets in your town, which will bring in revenue now. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Focusing on priorities

Currently, my town is determining which of two priorities should be funded (like many communities, we don't enjoy limitless funds, so we chose to concentrate resources.)

The choices:
1) building a library
2) building a retirement home

To some people these might seem like random spending opportunities, but to me they represent competing philosophies about the future. So I've attached relevant defining slogans to the projects to represent the community:

"Farmington is preparing for a bright future"

                 - or -

"Farmington: a great place to die"

Senior citizens deserve our support and resources. They deserve our love. If we don't support them, we won't be supported when our turn comes around, and knowing that may make us less motivated to support our community now. A senior home here would make it easier for locals to visit their ailing parents, so resolve an inconvenience.

But the first option, the library, builds the community's productive capacity. It makes the community into a place people want to live in, so they will stay near their ailing parents instead of moving to where the jobs are. A
nd it increases the likelihood of innovation. The retirement home option, but contrast, manages symptoms. Surgery vs. bandage. Vitamins vs. medication. 

And because Nauvoo, to me, represents any community that wants to move forward, I share the dilemma as a microcosm. Are you spending community coffers to make people comfortable, or to develop a better future?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Community Mission Statements

Before you start, perhaps you should write a mission statement for your community. You could call it a  Statement of Purpose or "What Farmington Means" statement.

Opinion: most corporate mission statements are poorly written. They tend to be descriptions of all the organization's purpose's, and try to cover all information possible. It should be a tool, but some are like a wrench that weighs as much as an automobile. It is too heavy and unwieldy, so no one ever uses it for anything. It hangs on a plaque in the lobby, read by visitors only if they are asked to wait for a long time.

The mission statement should not, on the other hand, be a marketing slogan. Here are some ideas that I like:

"Farmington is a place where people like to live, where businesses are encouraged to thrive, and where nature is encouraged."

"Farmington is the best place on earth because people support the community and the community supports people. We help each other."

"Pine Hill City strives to improve quality of life for residents and to offer meaningful diversions for visitors, and seeks to maintain safety for all."

Advice: keep it simple.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Artist Guilds

We're trying to build an artist co-op in our town. They will together build a brand.

The idea, structurally, makes sense.  They want to do the art, and let someone else take care of "back-office" functions. They would share the cost and effort needed for marketing.

I have some concerns. Artists can be erratic. They all have different opinions of what "art" means, as they should. But brands need consistency and unity. Conflicting types of art would cause confusion in the minds of consumers.

The idea of creating brands and guilds and co-ops is sound. Just remember, the execution is complicated.

I think we can do it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Purposeful Tourism

(This is a repeat,as yesterday's post was lost due to a glitch)

Many small towns, seeking to reinvigorate local economic conditions, will create initiatives to increase tourism. They'll promote sites and amenities. I recommend taking that a step further.

A few months ago, I ranked people in the community according to their commitment to the community.

  - Passer-through (person who stops and maybe buys fuel)
  - Tourist (spends a week or a few months)
  - Citizen (born and lives in the area)
  - Citizen who has traveled widely (understands the hometown better than the homebody) 

A tourist is an outsider. But why not engage with the tourists, rather than merely accepting their money? Participative Tourism can add to your region's store of learning and energy.

Just a few ideas to get you started in thinking of an idea of your own:

 - living history exhibit programs
 - folk art training (much more engaging than mere folk
    art viewing)
          - how about classes on blacksmithing, rope making,
             wool spinning, etc.? These are suddenly very hip.

 - Outdoor recreation that focuses on groups

Building something significant--even reaching critical mass--takes a long, long, long time. So starting soon is a good idea.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Most communities have what are called "CAVEs," or Citizens Against Virtually Everything. These intractable folk oppose any initiative, even those in their own best interest.

Let's try to learn about them.

I hear progressive people (the opposite of CAVEs) refer to them as Republicans. That is actually not accurate. The CAVEs in my town are generally Democrats. That is important because being inaccurate is not useful. Here are my observations for why someone might be an intentional continual show stopper.

  -  Personality or character issues (this is irrelevant to political
  -  Childhood trauma, which causes mistrustful sentiments
  -  Some might just need to be heard. They want their feelings
     and concerns to be acknowledged.

Trying to change hearts and minds through debate is rarely productive. "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," as Stephen Covey would advise, is a better strategy.  

Friday, April 22, 2011

What we CAN do to improve our community

The interplay of diverse types of people can spark innovation.

Do you want an innovative rural community? Creating more ethnic and religious diversity (etc.) would be ideal. But can we realistically recruit people to a boring town without jobs? Can we force them to join us?

They might choose to move here, after we reach critical mass of progress, but that would mean we had already solved the problem without them. They might come, however, after we prime the pump, using people we already have.

We can make the citizenry as diverse as we can, simply by first focusing on age diversity.

Start now, by convincing at least some youth to stay put and start micro-ventures after graduation, and by encouraging younger professionals to return to town after they have gone into the world and learned a skill.

Building the type of amenities that younger people like will help. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rural Jobs to be Hit as Well

Interested in which jobs will most decline in number during the next several years?  No need to wade through the volumes of figures on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site.

Endangered Jobs

Some of it is good news, some of it is bad news. All of it is something you need to consider.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why we need Nauvoo

The Nauvoo Commuter blog is produced in Nauvoo, Illinois, in the Midwestern U.S.  It behooves us to introduce our town.

Nauvoo was first settled by Mormon refugees, who bought the area from land speculators. They had come with the intent to build a utopian society. The community flourished for several years until economic competition with a jealous neighboring community led to religious persecution. The Mormons decided to leave. At gunpoint.

The city was then settled by European immigrants seeking a better life. A few years later, another utopian society settled the area. The Icarian movement from France developed a communal society here in Nauvoo.

In my line of work, I interact with business leaders, hedge fund managers, political technicians, and market traders around the world, and I hear a lot of discouragement. Nauvoo is an antidote representing idealism, the concept that a community can be formed to bring about some ideal society for which we yearn. That is our message to the world.

I can't see into Nauvoo's future, but of one thing I am sure. The world needs Nauvoo. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Lowest Common Denominator

To build excitement in your market, you need to do something remarkable and original.

Unfortunately, many companies (and especially media companies) struggle to create something original. So they resort to shock value.

Shocking people doesn't build, edify, or in any way make the world a better place. It does get people talking about you for a short time, and the short term has become our sole focus. Most organizations have given up on building long term value.

The market is full of Lindsay Lohans, doing egregious things just for attention. "Our product is lousy, so we'll keep you interested with prurient appeal." It creates a spark of interest that burns out fast, and puts you at the bottom of the rubbish heap even quicker.

Our advice: instead of appealing to the lowest common denominator, shoot for the stars. That will make you unique.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rural-city Disparity

In the city, people have the opportunity to make use of all of their talents.

If my daughter is a sufficient singer, she can participate in the opera. I can hone my persuasion skills by competing for time in front of legislators or before boards. We can get noticed by talent gatekeepers. Most importantly, I am able to rub shoulders with other talented people. We encourage each other and share ideas, creating better ideas through our combined efforts.

And in the city, people see more possibilities, so they raise their aspirations.

In here the country, people might be just as smart, but we have fewer opportunities. We have fewer of everything except open spaces. So people are less likely to excel.

Obviously the lifestyle has many advantages. The air is clean, the nights are quiet, and less energy is wasted by various annoyances.

But in terms of personal development, the lifestyle does have limits. Can we change this? Can we replicate the city advantages while keeping life simple?

The answer is: maybe. We might be able to, but we won't. It takes too long, we don't have the will, and one or two "show stoppers" in a community can scuttle any progress.

But let's keep talking anyway.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why you should eat your own food

Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular. Increasing attention is being paid to community gardens, school-yard gardens, and gardens in window boxes and on roofs.

Will people save huge amounts of money from their grocery budget? Hardly. You only spend (on average) nine percent of your income on food. If you achieve a 10 percent savings on your food budget, you've only saved .9 percent overall. That is not worth the many hours you spend pulling weeds. You can't out compete Mexican or Chilean or Chinese farm laborers.

But it is still very much worth the effort. The food you grow is far more healthy for your body and for your soul. Watching the miracle of life is a spiritual experience. Collecting dirt under your fingernails as you pull weeds is a spiritual experience.

And you will know exactly what is in this food you make yourself. Does your town have a community garden?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dear Small Town in Missouri

Highways going through small towns in the Midwest often feature a "business loop." A highway passes through a small town, but the newly-built highway passes around it. So drivers that would pass by are invited to take the alternate route, through the town.

On route 136 in Missouri, the normal route passed through a town, but the "alternate route" around the town was the main route. Drivers were invited to bypass the commerce in town.

Don't buy fuel here!  Stop looking at the Subway sandwich shop, threatening to purchase food. Hey you, don't you dare patronize our book store or gift shop. Those books and gifts are for us!

I know that eliminating truck traffic is the right thing in order to promote lifestyle. And lifestyle is important. But if you don't sell anything, you won't have any lifestyle left to promote. 

Dear Nebraska

Dear Nebraska,

Warren Buffett won't live forever, so you might consider re-branding your state.

The entrance to the state in Interstate 15 indicates you are the home of Arbor Day. But we don't observe more trees than in Iowa or Missouri (you certainly have more than Wyoming, but Wyoming has meticulously landscaped the entire state east of the Tetons to resemble the moon's surface. The effect is chilling but remarkable, and few states have the resources to replicate such a grand scheme.)

Do you have other trees we cannot see from the interstate? Why don't we know about them? You cannot compete with naturally forested regions in tree numbers, but you CAN be the state that plants more.  ...or claims to plant more.

Part of your job is to tell us you are special.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Everyone has fears. Some of them are reasonable, like fear of undertow at the beach, fear of making the toilet overflow when you visit a friend's home, or fear of your town being "Walmartified."

Some are unreasonable, like fear of zombies, fear of having your eyes pecked out by possessed birds, or the unnatural fear of clowns.

Some are reasonable, but still crippling, such as the fear of disappointing people. I know a few people who need to be a little more conscientious about disappointing people. But for most of us, it is debilitating. It is a fear we need to overcome.

We worry about failing as spouses, parents, neighbors. This is particularly dangerous for entrepreneurs. If you fear failing investors, partners, or your family, you probably will not be able to succeed. So beat it. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Government spending, responsibly

Yesterday, the Nauvoo Commuter drove across the North American continent to attend a funeral in the state of Utah, out in the Great Basin. Of course assisting with the funeral arrangements is the top priority, but I have had time to ponder the environment.

Utah ranks #1, as the best place to do business. They are the economic leader, according to Forbes Magazine. Last year, the state LOWERED corporate tax, while Illinois governor Pat Quinn is increasing corporate tax. Utah is "knocking the cover off the ball" while Illinois is languishing.

Cutting spending to the point of anemia is not necessarily a good idea, but wouldn't you rather be ranked #1, with a growing economy, than to be ranked #37?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cultural Values

This week I was reading my copy of Mother Earth News and was intrigued by an article called "Great Places You've (Maybe) Never Heard Of." One of the six places jumped out at me: Floyd, Virginia because I had just visited Virginia a few days before.

The town, with a population of 432, has become a preserver of American folk music. Why not become a propagator of Rap or string quartets or Euro-electronica?

American folk has influenced all the music we now export around the world, and deserves to be preserved. But Floyd's choice wasn't random or based on the mayor's personal taste. Floyd lies in the heart of the region where mountain music started. It is what they are good at doing. They've cultivated themselves as a center, and now people gather at the Floyd Country Store on Friday nights for the music jamboree.

What are some folk culture traditions unique to your region? Are you preserving them? Can you create a business that does this?

If your business is in tourism or entertainment, then stick with something authentic to the area. Tourists and potential high-value residents love authenticity.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Becoming a Creativity Magnet

Richard Florida wants you to promote lifestyle options in order to attract creative people. Not just symphonies and operas, but trendy restaurants and bars featuring punk rock might be good. We want edgy people, the truly creative, to bring their crazy innovative ways to our city. Some cities have successfully done this. Others have attempted and failed. But the concept is sound.

You should try this. You can build some eateries featuring "California cuisine"in the cornfields and coerce someone into selling smoothies next to the grain silos on the edge of town. Maybe this will spark something, and it will bring in some creative types, who will bring in more "lifestyle" and it will build on itself, and soon your little town will be as hip as Austin, Texas.

But can you, out on the edge of the prairie, really do this?  It might actually work, given 150 years or so. But these things take time, especially when you are starting on such a small scale. We'll need to prime the pump in a quicker way.

So how can you do that?  Let's keep talking.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Futures and Options

Aldi is my favorite store. The Batavia, Illinois subsidiary of German grocery chain Aldi Sud sells cheap food. Really cheap. Like, a fraction of Walmart.

I don't like shopping at Aldi simply because of cost or because I like shoddy quality. I like Aldi because they offer so few choices. I can walk in, by the groceries I need, and get out quickly. 

We have been taught that having more options will make us happier. But it actually makes us less happy. 

When we have too many choices, we fret each decision. Of all these many choices, which options will I NOT choose? Sociology professor Barry Schwartz, who calls it the "Paradox of Choice," is one of the the voices verbalizing this principle. 

The marketing lesson from this is clear: don't overwhelm your customers with too many options. The more options offered, the likelihood a choice will be made becomes less. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Why I write this blog

The cultural divide between rural and metropolitan continues to widen. City people are so enlightened, they would never consider uttering racial slurs. But slamming country folk is still very acceptable. That is wrong.

I have lived half of my adult life in the world's largest city. I now live in a town with population of about 1,000. I love both places. They are both charming. Both have smart people.

But the idea that "progressive" is smart and "traditional" is backward is a backward philosophy. I strongly disagree with the belief that a place failing to host the so-called SOB (symphony/opera/ballet) makes the residents lesser people. The idea is insidious. And I aim to disprove it.

Please stay tuned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bad news, good news

Bad news: seems as though quantitative easing has worked its magic. Inflation is here. Third World countries are in commotion, and families in the U.S. are strapped.

Good news: in commodity price increases are helping rural America. The majority of the world's grain is grown in the Midwest and Great Plains regions. And they cost more. So farmers are earning more, they are hiring more, they are spending in town more. Farm land prices are increasing.

A lot of that money is being redistributed to urban municipalities, so our schools and roads are not improving. But farmers are still doing well.

The good news has not yet improved life attitudes among rural dwellers. But a lag time usually exists between statistical improvement and the trickle down to people's lives.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Each community is composed of various clans.

They might be people connected by blood (why I always say "don't talk badly of anyone in your town, because you might unknowingly be talking to their cousin.") They might be unrelated people combined into a special-interest group. They might be allied by their mutual disdain for a certain institution, person, or project.

Clans might be permanent, they might be temporary. Some are obvious, some are clandestine. All are joined by some need:

   - need for alliance to accomplish a task or rally to a cause
   - need for companionship
   - need for opportunity to exert leadership or just to be heard
   - opportunity to socialize
   - loyalty to family

Understanding all of these connections are very important, you want to see progress. (Hint: you probably understand them less than you do.) 

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Here are some thoughts about a Community Improvement Visioning process. This is a different approach from what I normally see done. Make a chart of your key metrics, and describe the before and after situation (current vs. five years from now.)

This is super simple. As it should be.

You could add other elements, or replace the above with other elements.

  - stakeholders
  - community relationships
  - industry development
  - publicity
  - demographics
  - shopping, convenience, etc.

   1) Don't try to do too much. Visioning processes that fail
       were usually too ambitious. Or too weak.
   2) Get agreement on this vision early, and get unassailable
        commitment to those agreements, before you create strategies
        to reach the vision.