Failure Versus Success

“The only ones who fear failure are those who have never tasted it.” – Simon Sinek

Bessemer Ventures is a terrific Venture Capital firm.

They’ve had a lot of hits (Yelp, Pinterest, Linked In) and quite a few misses.

Such as not investing in Facebook.

Here’s how Bessemer explains its failure to see the potential in founders Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin:

“Jeremy Levine (a Bessemer partner) spent a weekend at a corporate retreat in the summer of 2004 dodging persistent Harvard undergrad Eduardo Saverin’s rabid pitch. Finally, cornered in a lunch line, Jeremy delivered some sage advice. ‘Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!’”

This week, Facebook’s market cap was approaching $606 billion—that’s billion with a B ($$$$).

I don’t know how many of us are prepared to reckon so openly (and humorously) with mistakes or let alone share them with the world.

But the truth is, if we are honest, we all miss from time to time.

I recently read an article by Bill Taylor, a founder of Fast Company magazine, who suggests that to be a better leader we ought to put together a “failure resume.”

It sounds a little odd, but the point is we often learn more from our failures than our successes.

I think that’s true, but only if we are self-aware and take the time to delve into why something didn’t work. Sometimes it’s hard to examine a failure, because failing can be painful and costly both emotionally and financially.

But if we remember that success is never final and failure is hardly ever fatal, we may be encouraged to take a deeper look at ventures that didn’t quite pan out.

As an entrepreneur, I have had some hits (admittedly minor, but I’m still swinging) and many misses.

As someone who works with a phenomenally successful entrepreneur, we have also had our share of hits (some really good ones) and some misses (it happens).

As a civic entrepreneur (aka a former elected official), there are a few votes I regret but many more (fortunately) that I’m proud of. I say fortunate because unlike business, where you can usually come back to fight another day, in politics once you’ve cast your vote, you can’t get it back.

So anyway, because I like and respect Bill Taylor and have read him for years, I thought I would sit on the couch one night and take his advice. I did my “failure resume” while watching “The Bachelorette”, which some would say should be added to my failure list. So here goes…

We failed to save the old Boca News—(although we did manage keep it alive long enough to sell it).

This was a high degree of difficulty mission since the paper struggled when Knight Ridder owned it and really struggled when they sold it, leaving us without a deep pocketed corporate parent. It was a painful exercise to keep afloat until it sold, because we had to let a lot of really good people go and those faces are forever etched in my mind.

For four years, I had some successes and some misses with a brand consultancy that helped companies bring their product to market.

We got a few clients shelf space nationally, but the amount of work we were doing (relative to the fees we were generating didn’t add up). What I failed to consider was that each start-up considered their product their baby (as they should). As a result, there was never enough attention we could pay to any one client that matched their expectations. We made some money, but we pulled the plug.

My first two entrepreneurial ventures also failed despite enjoying some early success.

As a young journalist, my colleagues and I approached my parent company with an idea—could we start a sports publication that would cover everything from youth sports to adult rec leagues?

Our corporate parent, called us “intrapreneurs” because they partnered with us on our effort, providing sales,  if we produced, designed and distributed the paper which we called “Boca Raton Sportscene.”

I still think it was a good idea and readers loved it but….we were charged expenses (printing $$$) and being less than sophisticated negotiators we got killed. It was only when I eventually left to start my own—successful publishing company (finally! a win)—did I realize that we were being charged how should I say it…aggressively.

But I learned a lesson and I relished the opportunity I was given. It also stoked my desires to give it a go on my own. And so I did. But before I left, I also ghost wrote books for clients, including custom biographies—again we were profitable but if you added the time versus the compensation well let’s just say I’d be better off doing just about anything else.

Since then, there have been real estate deals, hot sauce, beverages, more newspapers, events, consulting gigs, my own book, race horses, investments in other ventures, a magazine etc. etc.

Luckily, a few ideas worked. But they were all really challenging.

That’s why I admire entrepreneurs and creatives—because it’s hard work and it’s always uncertain.

I’ve been under capitalized and well capitalized, I’ve worked with experienced people and some.. ahem… others. I’ve seen great ideas crash and burn and some ideas I thought were questionable break through. In my mind, that’s the fun of it all.

So consider a failure resume, because once you lay it out there you might realize that those failures actually led to your successes.

 

Success Is Never Final

Downtown Delray wasn’t quite this bad, but it wasn’t too vibrant in the 80s.

I was following an interesting “thread” on social media recently regarding the closing of a retail store on Atlantic Avenue and U.S. 1.

Those commenting were lamenting the closing and the high rents that they blame for pushing out “mom and pop” retailers.

There were a few folks who were concerned that Atlantic Avenue was endangered by what some call “high rent blight”—the phenomenon of vacancies in a hot area caused by landlords asking for very high rents.

There were calls for more promotion of the downtown, rent controls and action from government.

It was a really interesting read.

A short time ago, I read other postings calling for an end to events and for the abolishment of agencies and entities that promote the downtown. Why waste the money, the argument went. Downtown Delray is successful, the job is done.

Well…folks, here’s an adage to remember. Success is never final and therefore your downtown is never “done.”

I moved to Florida 31 years ago this month. And it was a vastly different place.

The 1980s were not kind to downtown Delray Beach. We were not alone. Those were the days when malls and suburban shopping centers ruled the roost. Big box stores such as Walmart were killing main streets across the land.

Downtowns were left for dead and Delray was no exception.

In the mid to late 80s, downtown Delray had a roughly 40 percent vacancy rate, there was very little pedestrian or vehicular traffic, hardly any place to eat and you could have gone bowling at 5 p.m. on Atlantic Avenue without fear of hitting anything. Our brand was “Dull Ray.”

But things change.

Committed citizens, visionary entrepreneurs, bold elected officials and creative city staff began working together to change the fortunes of our downtown. Similar stories, with varying degrees of success, happened across America.

Once downtown Delray began to gain traction, leaders in the community developed a mantra. It went something like this: the downtown will never be ‘done’—it is the heart of the community and you can’t have a healthy community without a healthy heart. Complacency is a killer, we are competing with other cities for investment, residents, businesses and consumer spending and we have to constantly re-invent.

That was the philosophy that I grew up with in this town and one that I adopted when I was given the privilege of serving on the City Commission. I served with an interesting collection of people: Pat Archer, Bob Costin, Fred Fetzer, Bill Schwartz, Jon Levinson, David Schmidt, Brenda Montague, Alberta McCarthy and Rita Ellis. We were very different people—different ages, different religions, different races, different political parties and we had very different life experiences. But we managed to find common ground, even if, especially if, we had heated debate. We’d always find our center or “true north”—which was what we felt was best for the long term good of the city.

We weren’t always right. We didn’t always see with 20/20 vision what was around the bend, but we understood fundamentally that current conditions didn’t necessarily indicate future performance.

So if a part of town was broken, we assumed it could be fixed. And if a part of town was working, we assumed it could break. We knew success would require a commitment. We knew success wasn’t final and that success itself would pose additional challenges (hello traffic and high rents).

Which is why when times are good you don’t declare victory, you keep working and you wake up a little bit scared because you know that complacency is a killer. And when times get tough, you look at your assets—your agencies, your entities, your institutions, your ‘bones’ (as planners like to refer to our grid) and you sharpen them. You ask them to reinvent—to do more, be more, create more, grow and lead.

But if you kill or neglect those institutions, agencies and entities those tools will be gone or damaged. If you declare victory and take your eyes off the prize—well you just might find that you’ve been left in the dust.

Just remember, other cities always have their eyes on your assets.

 

 

Complacency is a Killer

Wynwood Yards—wow!

Recently, Bisnow Media convened a panel devoted to the remarkable rise of Wynwood, a super cool neighborhood in Miami.

The panel consisted of developers, investors and others who have been instrumental in the revitalization of a tired neighborhood into a hip, tourist draw and arts center.

Their conclusion: zoning was the key to the neighborhood’s success.

According to Bisnow: “Fortis Design+Build Managing partner David Polinsky said when Wynwood started becoming a hot neighborhood with galleries and street art, he had looked at a tract behind Panther Coffee and bought it the next day — only to find there was nothing he could build on it.

 In 2013, he helped write a white paper that laid out three planning and zoning goals: relaxed parking requirements, zoning that would permit flexible uses such as residential and office and increased density for residential development.

 The Wynwood Business Improvement District, which represents more than 400 property owners, worked with the city of Miami and planning firm PlusUrbia and, in 2015, developed a Neighborhood Revitalization Plan, which called for 10-foot-wide sidewalks, the development of studio apartments under 650 SF and the establishment of a design review committee that would consider future projects. Eventually, the city passed eight ordinances that incorporated the changes.”

The changes created value that didn’t exist before. And the magic of those zoning changes is that the value didn’t cost the taxpayers a fortune. Unlike expensive incentives and tax abatements, increasing flexibility (especially for urban infill sites) is the best tool cities have to create value, attract investment and transform neighborhoods. Zoning beats costly incentives my friends.

But success has its challenges too.

While Wynwood has won international acclaim, rents have soared squeezing out the eclectic array of small businesses that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. Rents are now said to be between $40 and $100 per square foot, that’s very pricey for independents. On nearby Lincoln Road which started losing independents in 1999 rents can be as high as $330 a square foot.

Locally, we have experienced a similar phenomenon.

When I moved to Delray in the late 80s, Atlantic Avenue rents were $6-8 a square foot. Adjusted for inflation that would be the equivalent of $13-$17 a square foot in 2018 numbers. But today rents are $50 to over $100 a square foot downtown. That’s a challenge. Fortunately, the Downtown Development Authority recognizes that there are issues and has engaged Robert Gibbs, a noted expert, to help navigate. The city would be wise to listen to Gibbs’ 43 page analysis which is available on the DDA website. I don’t agree with it all, but it’s fascinating reading.

Urban redevelopment is often the tale of revitalization and then hyper gentrification which ultimately squeezes the charm out of a place. While change is inevitable (even Charleston, S.C. has chain stores up and down its main drag) it doesn’t always have to mean doom and gloom. There are tools—rental assistance (which can be controversial), pop-up store opportunities to test ideas, retail incubators and small liner shops that can help promote authentic and independent uses.

But it isn’t easy. And you’re never done.

That was a mantra back when Atlantic Avenue was making the turn from “Dull Ray” to “America’s Most Fun Town.”

There’s always a chorus of people who will be saying it’s time move on and concentrate elsewhere once you find some success.

 But city building is never a zero sum binary game.

You can do many things at once—and you should: each part of your city deserves its own strategy and investment plan—but you’ll never be totally done. Success is never final and with it comes challenges; many unexpected.

Wynwood is at an inflection point. I would argue that downtown Delray Beach and east Boca is as well. Mind you, these are good problems to have. They certainly beat the alternative which is our “town is dead, what do we do?”

I drove Atlantic Avenue with my dogs on a recent Sunday evening. It was a hot steamy off season night and it was nice to see crowds of pedestrians and diners—people of all ages enjoying the avenue. I noticed some vacancy and I also noticed that our streets could be cleaner. But I also saw vibrancy, hard fought, hard to get and harder to keep vibrancy.

The dogs stuck their heads out the window to check it out and soak it in. It felt good and it’s something we should cherish and work together to keep.

The challenges are not unique, but the opportunities are very unique. Consider me grateful. There’s something cool about never being done. It allows all of us to be part of an ongoing story.

 

 

 

 

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Is A Valentine

Fred Rogers’ ministry was children’s television.

We went to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” at the wonderful Living Room Theatre at FAU. It was terrific.

The documentary on the life and legacy of Fred Rogers explores the timeless charm of Mr. Rogers who for more than 30 years entertained and educated children on PBS.
When the film ended, you could hear sniffles from the sold out audience.  Mr. Rogers still resonates.
In fact, he may resonate now more than ever.

When I looked around I saw a lot of senior citizens in the crowd..maybe their children or grandchildren watched Mr. Rogers or maybe they did too.  Regardless of their age, they were really moved by the story of a man who decided that his ministry would be children’s television.

Mr. Rogers kindness, authenticity and simple message of love seems so rare and unique these days that watching it onscreen is deeply moving.

There’s a longing in our society these days, a missing element and Fred Rogers epitomizes that void.

As a result, there’s a certain melancholy in the documentary. And I’m not sure  it’s intended.
But there’s a sense that with the passing of Mr. Rogers in 2003, that an era has passed in America that cannot be recaptured.
It was an era of community, tight knit and supportive neighborhoods, acceptance and love.

Sure, everything looks better in hindsight. And Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood took place in pretty tumultuous times. The documentary covers how his show dealt with subjects such as assassination, war, race and 9/11 which took place a month after he retired. PBS brought him back to address the horrors of terrorism.
Still, there was also an innocence to the neighborhood—there was love and acceptance.

The melancholy was the unspoken thread that somehow something has been lost in the intervening years.

The film concludes by asking the audience to think of someone special in their lives; someone who helped you in your life’s journey.
And that’s probably the source of the sniffles I heard in Boca.

If we are fortunate, we’ve all had that special someone or multiple helpers in our lives.
Remembering them is important. Honoring them is also important by being there for others in your “neighborhood.”

Fred Rogers’ message was one of love and understanding.
It’s a timeless message of kindness. It will never go out of style and it’s needed now more than ever.
Mr. Rogers widow believes her husband would have been devoted to healing our nation’s divisions. He would have tried to find a way to bring people together.
To me, that’s the essence of leadership. It’s also the essence of humanity and what we are all called to do.

Things We Liked & Happy Birthday America

Life has been such a whirlwind that we forgot our list of things we liked in May.

So this post will include a round up for May and June, while wishing you a safe and happy Independence Day.

Dinner at Baciami, a great spot in Boynton, owned by a Delray resident with two great Boca/Delray people Perry and Diana Don Francisco. Great food, great service, awesome atmosphere. We went back with more friends in June. Highly recommended.

Delray Craft Beer Fest—especially the grapefruit beer. Some of my less evolved friends poke fun at my appreciation for “fruity” flavored beers. I say, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Catching the movie “Tully” starring the immensely talented Charlize Theron in a decidedly non glamorous part. Well written, a nice way to spend a rainy spring day. We also saw “Book Club” at Cinemark Boca. As we move well into our AARP years it is nice to see mature romance portrayed on the big screen. Diane Keaton remains as charming as she was in Annie Hall.

Bob Costin got a smart phone. The legendary former Delray Beach City Commissioner who avoided email and the Internet for decades finally gave in. Now if only he would text us.

Breakfast at Christina’s…it’s not just the Tabanero hot sauce, it’s the omelets. The best around.

Attending the FAU Sandler College of Social Work’s 2018 induction ceremony. To see 110 social workers honored brought tears to our eyes. They are heroes.

Happiness is being able to talk to Fran Marincola about something other than parking. Especially when that something is Springsteen on Broadway. Make sure you stop by Caffe Luna Rosa to see the Springsteen signed guitar we were able to snag on Touch of Modern.

Lunch at Mario’s on Glades. Just plain good.

Leadership Florida…it’s always inspiring.

Lunch with Andrew Duffel of the FAU Research Park. Always informative and always thought provoking. Not to mention the sublime food at Cuban Cafe.

The Joe Cotton Band Live At the Crest. Original songs. Great performances. Good crowd. A tambourine. Long live rock. Catch them when you can.

True Kitchen and Fresh Kitchen. Both in Boca. Both really good. And healthy too. Bolay too..delish.

Dinner at Domus in Boca. So good. Fresh pasta, an exuberant chef and a nice atmosphere.

Meeting Tony, Val and Maks of Dancing With the Stars Fame at their new dance studio at the Town Center Mall. Thanks to the Kaye’s for the invite.
Now if only The Bachelor would relocate here.

The Front Porch—this historic Delray spot is a great place for a summer salad, parmesan dumplings and great specialty cocktails. Check it out.

As summer heats up, we urge you to shop and dine local. In the past few weeks, we enjoyed visiting Vintage Tap, Harvest, 5th Avenue Grill, La Cigale, Oleo, Boheme, Brule, Papas Tapas and Deli on Rye. It’s nice to walk in and grab a table, even nicer to keep our local businesses successful during the slow months.

Finally, on a sad note we mourn the loss of two terrific Delray people: Dr. Fred Love and Pasqual Ranich.

Dr. Love was a wonderful guy who was a big part of an historic Delray family. We enjoyed a very nice relationship. I spent some time this month reading old emails he sent. He was always a gentleman and we had some wonderful discussions about Delray. A true gentleman.

Pasqual was a sweet man. We met when he was working at Boston’s on the Beach and I was privileged to help when he opened the Hurricane which he quickly built into a favorite local spot.
I will miss his smile and we will all miss his kindness. Just a wonderful guy.

Have a safe and enjoyable 4th. See you next week.

Better Angels….

They got the ‘damn paper’ out the next day. Those of us who know journalists knew they would.

It’s dangerous to be a journalist.

Five were murdered last week in Annapolis, Maryland.

It’s dangerous to tell the truth and dangerous to share a community’s stories because there are people who don’t want the truth to be told. Especially if it challenges their worldview or their actions.

We are living in a society that’s rapidly dividing. One of the symptoms of that division is we now have our own set of facts. You have yours and I have mine.

And that’s dangerous too.

The most dangerous people in our society are those who are so cemented in their politics that no amount of information, no science, no research, no argument, no amount of logic can get them to consider another point of view.

So some angry, twisted and lethally armed lunatic who lost a defamation suit against the Capital Gazette newspaper decides to walk in and murder his community’s fact seekers and story tellers.

Journalism is a tight knit profession and having been in the field for a long time (in a prior life) you tend to know people in newsrooms throughout the land. I didn’t know Rob Hiassen even though he worked at the Palm Beach Post in the 90s. But I knew his nephew Scott Hiassen who covered Delray in the 90s.

Scott’s dad is Carl Hiassen, a legendary Miami Herald columnist and bestselling author. Carl was Rob’s brother and now Rob is gone for good. And it makes me sad. It makes me angry.

It stings because I’ve worked in newsrooms and they are full of life, humor, knowledge, stories, history, smarts and talent. The people who work there are overworked and underpaid. They work there—if they are lucky to have a job these days—because they love to write, they believe being a journalist is important work, they know in their bones that what they do every day is essential to Democracy.

They don’t always get it right. They miss stories. They make mistakes. There are reporters and editors who are biased—some of that comes with being human and some of it comes because they play favorites and also because they are human. I think we forget that sometimes.

 But there are many journalists who do an amazing job writing the first draft of history, who ferret out the facts, tell the stories, and do the investigations. There are many who report on the everyday too—the often boring city commission meetings, the stories on budgets, taxes, police, high school sports, library programs etc.

If we pay attention to their work, we learn about our communities. If we tune out, we lose out.

There was a time when newspapers were the water coolers of our towns and cities. They were on every lawn, every morning or every week and they kept us informed as neighbors. They built community. They gave us a common frame of reference.

The Internet changed all of that. Newspapers are struggling which is unfortunate because they are still essential to our Democracy and the health of our communities.

You can’t get local news on the Internet in many, many places. That’s starting to change but the business model is still evolving and the big challenge is finding the revenue to support quality journalism.

Even though I long ago left daily journalism, journalism has never left me. I still see the world as a reporter does. I enjoy stories. I look at things and say to myself ‘now that would be a great story’ and I get disappointed when the journalists on the local beat here in Delray Beach and Boca Raton miss what I know to be happening. Trust me, the best stories go untold.

We even invested in a local newspaper because we believe in the power of the medium and the need to cover stories and express opinions even if those opinions rankle the powers that be.

We didn’t buy a local newspaper because we saw it as a quick path to riches and fame. We bought the paper because we care about our community and we want to tell stories that may otherwise go untold. Our July issue—fresh on the stands is a case in point full of stories on local people, businesses, events and charities.

In the absence of a professionally edited and curated water cooler we get the wild west—trolls, haters, rumors, falsehoods, innuendo, misogyny, racism, bots, hackers, content farms—real fake news which is different than news you don’t like or that doesn’t toe the party line.

We are at a dangerous inflection point in America.

We are labeling the free press a danger to our Democracy when in fact it’s a guarantor—regardless of its imperfections.

I’ve been on both sides of the notebook so I know what it takes to do the job. I tried to get it right when I was on the local government, features and police beat. I tried to give context, I tried to quote people correctly and I tried to get the facts right and explain it in a way that made sense.

My old editor, Tom Sawyer (his real name) drilled into his troops the need to get out into the community. He implored us to develop sources beyond the usual suspects, dig for information, double and triple check names, facts, figures etc. He urged us to listen and write stories that explained how decisions—budget, zoning, policy—would impact our reader’s lives.

We frustrated him at times. My lasting image of him in my mind’s eye is Tom with his head in his hands, his face red, his eyes tired from reading and being challenged by a group of free-spirited storytellers. Yeah, sometimes he barked at the moon, but we knew he liked us.

On my first day on the job, 31 years ago this month, he took me to lunch with a few others to Tom Sawyer’s restaurant on Boca Raton Boulevard. I was 22 and very happy to be in Florida and to have a job. He assigned me to a place called Delray Beach, which is where I ended up living because it was much more affordable than Boca. It was all friendly until he told me that they named the restaurant after him and therefore I should never let him down or disappoint him. I was gullible (journalism cured me of my gullibility in short course) and I believed him, sort of.

I went to work in a newsroom with wonderful people, who were smart, funny, ferociously curious, fearless, creative and mostly nice.

Since that special time I have worked in a slew of other places with a bunch of other special people but nothing was as consistently interesting/creative as that old newsroom on East Rogers Circle and later on Fairway Drive in Deerfield Beach.

So I suspect that the newsroom at the Capital Gazette was special too. And to think of five people killed, others injured and terrorized in such a creative and important place….well it just really stings.

We best find our ‘better angels’ as Abraham Lincoln implored us to do before the Civil War. Or we will repeat history and ruin a damn fine thing, which is America itself.

 

Experts, Beginners and Long Term Thinking

“We said at the outset that the degree of difficulty is high and success is going to require an expert knowledge, a beginners mind and a long-term orientation.”  Amazon founder Jeff Bezos on hiring a new CEO to run a company designed to disrupt (improve health care delivery) in America.

Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan Chase and Amazon are teaming up to try and solve what has been an intractable problem: delivering high quality health care at an affordable price.
While I wouldn’t bet against Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon and Bezos, the three business titans trying to solve health care I’m more intrigued by Bezos’ quote.

And since we often write about leadership in this blog, I thought we would look at Bezos’ thoughts through the prism of public leadership.
With local and state elections looming it’s a good time to consider the jobs that are up for grabs: Mayor of Boca Raton, Council Seats in Boca, County Commission, Governor, Senator.
It’s fair to say that the degree of difficulty is high for all of these jobs.

Difficult… but not impossible.
These jobs and others do require some subject area expertise.

I was amazed at the amount of work and vast amount of subject matter we dealt with on the Delray Beach City Commission. Municipal finance, budgets, pensions, labor union contracts, public safety, race relations, urban planning, infrastructure, parks design, site plans, neighborhood revitalization, housing policy and on and on and on it went.

It would have helped to have an “expert knowledge” but absent that you learn to rely on city staff and your own reading and studying. Still, you can’t master it all.
To follow Bezos’ quote, the lack of expert knowledge gives you a beginners mind which is so important. But only if that mind is open to new ideas.
A beginners mind allows you to view issues differently— hopefully without bias and hopefully creatively.

I just read a fine new book entitled  “Unsafe Thinking” which urges us to think differently, shed biases and lead.
Bezos touches on the book’s  themes with his prescient quote.

His final point: a long term orientation. How important this is!
Isn’t that what’s missing on the national scene which seems to always be about the next election cycle?

Progress gets lost when long term thinking loses out to short termism.
When safe thinking crowds out risk, vision and responsibility to the future we all lose.

I don’t know if Dr. Atul Gawande–the new CEO– will succeed in his new role trying to fix health care. But when Bezos says he is the perfect blend of expert, beginners mind and long term orientation I know he has a chance.

And if any of the candidates for the offices we will vote on August 28 possesses those traits…well…that would be something. That would really be something.

Resilience + Intelligence=Something Special

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer died last week.

I will miss him.

Not because we shared common views on politics—we didn’t. But because he was an intelligent and brave voice and those are rare traits in these days of belligerence, alternative facts, echo chambers and blind loyalty.

Mr. Krauthammer did not follow anyone blindly. He was conservative, but independent.

He had people he admired but his admiration was rooted in ideas and ideals and that’s a welcome approach that helps to avoid a cult of personality.

Krauthammer was in Boca Raton two years ago to keynote the annual Boca-Delray Community Event of the American Friends of Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross).

I had a chance to attend but had a conflict. I’m sorry I missed it. I didn’t know his voice would be silenced so soon. At 68. Cancer is just terrible. .

There are scores of great writings from the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, but here are two of my favorites.

“You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures,” he wrote in the introduction to his memoir, “Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics” (2013). “Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.”

How true, we’d be wise to listen.

 

As someone who was paralyzed while a young man in medical school, Krauthammer was an inspiration and a living lesson in resilience. He loved the Bernard Malamud book “The Natural” in which the protagonist Roy Hobbs is shot by a crazed fan which derails Hobbs’ baseball career.

 

“No one knows why Hobbs is shot,” he wrote. “It is fate, destiny, nemesis. Perhaps the dawning of knowledge, the coming of sin. Or more prosaically, the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter. Every life has such a moment. What distinguishes us is whether — and how — we ever come back.”

 

In those few beautifully written sentences, Krauthammer covers fate, human vulnerability and resilience.

It’s sad that he’s gone. It’s nice to read someone you disagree with but respect. Someone who challenges your beliefs, makes you think and makes you believe that intelligent and respectful debate is still possible.

Rest In Peace. And thank you.

Our Towns: A Formula For Success

Our Towns is a journey through what’s working in America.

James and Deborah Fallows are living the life I dream about.
Flying from town to town across America, embedding themselves in the community and writing about what they find.

James has done this for years as national correspondent for The Atlantic. For the book “Our Towns”, he and his wife alternate writing chapters as they visit places such as Eastport, Maine, Greenville, South Carolina, Burlington, Vermont and Winters, California.
Every town they write about is a place I’d love to visit.

Their prose is so vivid, their descriptions of the town’s stories are so compelling that you find yourself fantasizing about visiting or living there.
They seem to find the people that make a place go and spend time at brewpubs, YMCA’s, libraries and innovative schools.
They look for vibrant downtowns, committed business and civic leaders and along the way you become invested in the towns they write about.
All of the towns have a story and an arc: from despair to revitalization.
Some have  fully “arrived”, places like Greenville and Burlington and Holland, Michigan some are on the way (Eastport, Maine) but all have some common elements:
Committed citizens, a willingness to invest, a desire to improve, honesty about the problems they face, schools that take chances and set high standards, an embrace of culture and quality of life amenities and an ability to celebrate their wins. They aspire and they have civic pride. They also seem to have microbreweries. Seriously.

Anyway, the Fallows’ have come up with 11 signs a city will succeed based on their travels.
Here they are:
—Divisive national politics seem a distant concern.
—You can pick out the local patriots. You can answer the question “who makes this town go?” Sometimes it’s a mayor or council member. Sometimes it’s a volunteer or local business leader.
—Public private partnerships are real. Successful towns can point to examples and say “this is what a partnership means.”
—People know the civic story. America has a story. So does California. And so do successful towns and cities.
—They have a downtown. And that downtown is healthy and has some ambition. Good bones are critical but not enough.
—They are near a research university. This is somewhat controversial because not every successful town is so blessed. But it helps.
—They have and care about a community college.
—They have unusual schools. Schools that innovate, take risks and deliver.
—They make themselves open. Great cities are inclusive and work to assimilate newcomers.
—They have big plans. They aspire, they have vision and they execute.
—They have craft breweries. Fallows calls this perhaps the most reliable marker. His point: “ A town that has craft breweries also has a certain kind of entrepreneur and a critical mass of mainly young customers.”  He challenges us to find an exception.  Fortunately, both Delray and Boca have craft breweries. So does Boynton Beach.

Take a look at the list and see how many signs we have. Drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a good summer read check out “Our Towns.”

 

But For Leadership Florida

Dr. Frank Luntz gives us the numbers: we are a nation divided.

I spent the weekend in Sarasota at the annual meeting of Leadership Florida.
Leadership Florida is a statewide organization devoted to building community.

That’s not easy  in a giant and diverse state. It’s a monumental task.
Because not only is Florida huge, but many of us come from other parts of the nation and world and so we may not identity the Sunshine State as “home.”

I’m an example, I am a New Yorker and identify strongly with the northeast. But Florida is home. I’ve lived here 10 more years than I lived in New York.
Still, while I’ve always loved Delray Beach, Leadership Florida helped me gain a deeper appreciation for the entirety of Florida.

I’ve learned that we live in a remarkable state. Florida has a rich history, an exciting present and a very promising future. We also face some complex challenges ranging from rising seas to political division.
But what Leaderahip Florida proves is that if good people come together in a spirit of community they can work together to solve problems and seize opportunities.
Now I realize that sounds Pollyanna and simplistic, but the truth is these leaders from the world’s of business, politics, academia, health care, energy and the non profit world– who range from liberal to ultra conservative– show how people can work together across ideological lines.

The annual meeting weekend is jam packed with learning sessions that often raise provocative questions.
This year, we listened to Michael Smith, a former Obama administration official and executive director of My Brothers Keeper, Dr. Frank Luntz, who shared some sobering news on our divisions and a path forward, former George W. Bush White House photographer Eric Draper, Claire Diaz-Ortiz, a social media expert who talked about what’s good about social media at a time when all we’re hearing is how it’s ruining our kids, our brains and our country and a raucous panel on the pros and cons of autonomous vehicles.
The sessions provoke lots of thinking and healthy debate.
And that’s good. It’s what we’re often lacking as we talk past each other.

I’ve long felt that if you populated Congress or the state legislature with a random sampling of Leadership Florida graduates, you’d see a whole lot of problems solved.
Oh there would be arguments  and differences galore, but I’m certain that these leaders would always find a way forward.
We need more of what Leadership Florida offers: intelligent debate, treating your allies with humility  and your opponents with respect.

Bits from the weekend:
–We had dinner with former White House photographer Eric Draper who chronicled all 8 years of George W. Bush’s term. I loved his session so getting to sit next to Mr. Draper at dinner was extra special. He talked about the Bush family, the rigorous nature of the job (over 1 million images shot, international travel and the pressure of not missing history as it unfolds).

Also at our table, Gregg Pettersmeyer who served two presidents (Nixon and Bush 41) in senior advisory positions and Capt. Charlie Plumb who spent 2,103 days as a POW during the Vietnam War and is a founder of the Navy’s “top gun” school. He’s a remarkable man and beyond nice.
We got lucky with our seat assignment because my Leadership Florida classmate Wendy Spencer is now CEO of the organization after serving as director of National Service for two presidents. She hooked us up. (Class XXIV perks). These types of opportunities are also called “but for Leadership Florida” experiences. They’re invaluable.
–We got some insight from Claire Diaz Ortiz on how as a Twitter executive she helped get the Pope on social media. She talked about the positive aspects of social media at a time when the technology is under siege. It was a welcome respite. But concerns linger about data privacy and social media’s role in sowing division.

–Dr. Frank Luntz talked about public opinion and reminded us how far institutions and professions have sunk in the minds of the public. (More on his findings in a future blog). But right now, elected officials, bankers, lawyers, journalists and CEO’s are held in very low regard.
And we enjoyed a great presentation on autonomous cars with advocates (the co-founder of Voyage which serves The Villages) and the entertaining Alex Roy president of the Human Driving Association. (More on that too in the future).
Hope everyone had a great Father’s Day! If you can, check our Leadership Florida. Apply for the cornerstone class program or Connect if you’re a young professional. It’s a worthwhile investment of your time.