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It’s About Time…

Posted on April 12, 2019


Clay Campbell

Today’s Morning Buzz is by ELGL member Clay Campbell:


Transformation.

Reinvention.

Innovation.

All words that seem refreshing and buzz-wordy at the same time in our local government circles. How many times do you come across an article on LinkedIn or Twitter promising that the next great thing that will “reinvent government” has arrived?

The one constant that unites all of us government forward-thinkers, in our collective struggle to reframe government in the 21st century, is time. The time you have available to dedicate to innovation initiatives for your organization, the time it will take to convince policy leaders and upper-level municipal staff in your communities that a better way to do something likely exists, or even the time you consume fulfilling your myriad responsibilities in order to “keep your local gov ship afloat.”

I recently had the opportunity to visit Carolina Beach, North Carolina and their amazing boardwalk with the family. I highly recommend it as it really provided me with a chance to turn my brain off and simply enjoy the moment – even if it’s just for a moment.

As we played and frolicked on the beach, I thought about two things:

  1. The Municipal Equation podcast that my friend Ben Brown produces for his employer, the North Carolina League of Municipalities – he did a whole segment (link here) about how many of the coastal towns in North Carolina have to dredge their coastlines and bring in new loads of sand to replenish the beaches as tourism dollars provide a major source of revenue for these communities (talk about budget woes). This typically isn’t something that has to be done every year, but when you have a significant change in the environment (i.e. hurricanes), it completely flips the script on regular and predictable change to the landscape over a linear timeline (now we’re talking about spontaneous change) which then alters how the community responds to those unpredictable external forces; and

2. That many of the smooth pebbles and stones I encountered on my walk up and down the beach did not originate in that form – they were shaped and molded over time by waves crashing and tumbling the material sanding off the “rough edges.” Do we spend much of our time in local government thinking back on what our “pebbles” used to look like (rough edges and all) or do we fix our attention on where we are as a local government and by reference where we want to go? What are the forces in your communities that take the place of waves and shape or mold how you respond to your citizens’ needs over time?

My thoughts linger on those items in our world around us that truly take an astounding passage of time to become something greater than what they were before:

  • Naturally-occurring diamonds form from carbon deep below the earth’s crust through immense temperature and pressure over literally billions of years. How are Diamonds Made?(link here); or
  • 20 Buildings and Structures That Took the Longest Time to Build (link here) – my personal favorite being the Great Wall of China at over 2,000 years; or even
  • The time it must take Nick Offerman to craft a Ron Swanson-esque natural edge table or canoe built from scratch in his amazing workshop (link here)

While I chafe at the thought that innovation or progressive change in local government requires more time than I think it ever should, it is undeniable that time is an essential variable in the equation.

I have experienced both success and failure implementing technology-based change in my unit of local government over the last twelve years and looking back – I likely underestimated the importance of timing on more than one occasion. Sometimes, it pains me to say it, your organization or staff or citizens are not ready for a particular transformation.

That being said – don’t overlook the possibility that there may only be one missing piece of the puzzle to achieve that critical mass for substantive change in your local government and if you concentrate your efforts or focus to that one honed area – it might turn the tide.

Food for Thought: With all this talk of time and its inseparable connection to change in various arenas, I’ll leave you with a link to a great moment Charlie Rose had with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett regarding how they interact with and perceive the value of time in their daily lives.

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