Your one wild and precious life (Sept. 17 column)


The Summer Day

Who made the world? Who made the swan, and the black bear? Who made the grasshopper? This grasshopper, I mean- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand, who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down- who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes. Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face. Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away. I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver

Over three years ago, I was heading home from Boston after spending three days at the Hive Global Leaders program. I was with 120 leaders from 49 nations, and one thing I discovered was a greater respect for all of humanity. As we experienced talks and engaged in discussions and started rapid prototyping ideas for projects on which to collaborate, it became for me an object lesson on the fact that on the inside, we’re practically identical twins. The things that divide us are all social constructs, and need not matter. Surely someone has benefited from the fear and uncertainty that drive racism, classism, xenophobia, insularity, and more.

Since then, I have been to Columbia University to learn about the future of work and how technology can include workers of all ages and abilities in the workplace, and I have traveled to Tampa, Florida to the Poynter Institute (for journalism) to do more with the future of work, as well as equity in higher education and covering the 2020 census. They’re all intertwined. I’m taking on all of these topics to improve my coverage of how we will earn a living and spend our days now and into the future.

What’s our future of work? We have the U.S. Dept. of Defense project coming to town, the Tradewinds Energy wind project, and other opportunities on the horizon.

Sometimes when I’m listening in Emmet County, I hear, “Things will never change,” and “we’re on a decline; we’re never going to get our population back,” and “there are no jobs.”

Others have ideas, and I really do believe a fair number of those ideas are at some point implemented. In the time since I came to town, going on five ago, we have added new businesses and shored up existing ones. We have an entrepreneur center on par with those across the state, and we are addressing some of our community’s most pungent issues. Has it created thousands of jobs yet? Not yet.

Let’s return to the entrepreneur center for a moment. Out in the shadows, I suspect there are a number of people who have an idea for a new business they would start: if they had the money, if the kids were out of the house, if they had more time, if they knew all the things to do. The federal project in particular will bring opportunities for new and existing small businesses to get a piece of the pie. So it’s creating about 47 jobs. That’s not nothing, and then we add all the boosts and starter fluid to small businesses here and that number grows exponentially. It will create a new job and new tasks to do. That work for pay will create ripples, bubbles and bumps throughout the economy.

One thing I learned at Hive is this: doing is the best kind of thinking. Smart people can always come up with good reasons for their guesses, but it could still be just a guess. Tom Chi of GoogleX talked about Rapid Prototyping. The quickest way to go from guess to direct experience is to have the experience.

Use fragments of what you do know. Maximize the rate of learning what you need to know to get started by minimizing the time to try ideas.

Many ideas fail. You’ve heard about Thomas Edison and the light bulb, yes? How ironic that a light bulb is now the icon for a new idea. Does it sound discouraging to know that only about five percent of new ideas work out?

That is discouraging, until we look at the rate of trying 20 things = 64 percent chance one will work out; or 50 things = 92 percent chance something will work out. If we keep going, we aren’t failing; we’re learning.

The Excel building’s coworking space seems like a perfect way to rapidly prototype all kinds of things. The coffee house, the cafes, the Sanborn Room at the Estherville Public Library, and the parks, if the weather is right, all work, too. I have my own office in the house we just bought. It has a couch that could host some rapid prototyping, too. As long as two or more people can come together to develop ideas, this county will get on a trajectory to change, to grow, to flourish, to prosper.

We cannot heal the divide in the world if we cannot heal the divide in ourselves. We may not need to double our population; we could start by doubling the number of people engaged in the community, putting their minds to innovation in the schools, workplaces, and at large. I think it starts with all of us answering the question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”


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