In my hometown of Oakes, North Dakota, I have the distinct privilege of being the president of our Chamber of Commerce. (for this year anyway)
And lately, one of the big topics on our agenda is the future of our little town.
Small towns differ from big cities in a lot of obvious ways, but one of the less obvious ones is how we in smaller communities perceive the road ahead.
In the big city, everyone assumes that their communities will go on indefinitely. That they’ll always be vibrant, thriving, growing places to live.
But in rural America, we don’t have that luxury. We can’t take for granted that our community will be alive and kicking in 20 years the way that cities of a million or more can.
Finding ways to pave the way to a bright future in our small town has become a big priority for me. After all, it’s not just for the benefit of those of us who live here now. It’s also for the children we’re raising, and the legacy we plan on leaving them.
So how do you move with the times in places where the prevailing attitude tends to be about holding onto the “good old days” than looking toward the horizon?
Maybe in your community, you’re on a committee, a member of a church, or you run (or work for) a local business. You’ve probably noticed that any time you combine different values and viewpoints, resistance and disagreements are par for the course. That’s true no matter where you live.
But small towns have their special brand of politics, internal cliques, and long-standing traditions.
What happens when your community needs to reexamine outdated ideas so that it can stay relevant 21st-century world? How do you do it without upsetting the old guard or without writing off the new?
The answer is tapping into the power that we’ve been talking about all this month. The thing that makes growth and evolution possible in the workplace, in our homes, and in our personal lives.
That thing is?
Creativity can help you design a future on the foundation that you already have. It’ll help you respect the past, craft a vision for the future, and honor both as you move forward.
Today I’m sharing four particular challenges that come up in small town organizations, and I’ll show you how creativity can help turn issues into answers.
I’m not going to lie. Sometimes this one makes my ears bleed. It underscores that struggle between the old guard and new guard, tradition versus progress. And it brings up significant tensions.
It can happen to companies, churches, committees, and even families. It’s easy to fall prey to the mindset that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That idea that if what you’re doing has “always worked,” it doesn’t need to change.
Sometimes, though, things might not be working as well as they seem to be. And it’s an opportunity to bring in other perspectives and open up to new ideas.
Then there’s the other side to this mentality–to shoot something down because “it’s been tried before.” (Even if the last time it was “tried” was 20 years ago…)
But maybe something that didn’t work the first time might be just the ticket now. New energy, people, and circumstances can breathe new life into an old idea, and give you the impetus to give it another try.
It’s important to remember that just because something has worked up until now doesn’t mean that change isn’t in order. And creativity is the catalyst that encourages us to entertain all possibilities.
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that we need change for the sake of change. (Although the Groove Seeker in me is sometimes wired to favor that idea) but you can’t deny that eventually, change is essential for growth.
The goal is to build on the past without getting stuck there. And a creative mindset will help you craft new solutions that will honor tradition without being beholden to it.
I bet you’ve come across the ideas of Mr. Pareto at some point in your life: that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. It applies to multiple areas of life, too.
For example, things like 80% of the wealth in the world is controlled by 20% of the people. 80% of the revenue comes from 20% of the clients. 80% of the complaints come from 20% of the participants.
And if you’re in any given organization, it might feel like 20% of the people usually do 80% of the work. It can especially feel that way if you’re on a committee in a small town.
So is Mr. Pareto as right as he seems to be?
Sometimes the 80/20 thing is just a baseline truth. But in my experience with small-town groups, boards, or organizations, it can be shifted to a distribution of effort that is a little bit more equitable.
And it starts with inviting in a little bit of “fresh blood”.
Here’s the thing with small-town politics. Sometimes it’s the same people on the same committees, who eventually will their spot to a hand-picked replacement.
It makes for the same perspectives and the same answers. And that old (dare I say it!) “inbred” energy can often leave you stuck in a creative rut.
And on the outside chance that a new person does break into the inner circle, is the group listening to their suggestions, or are they shutting them down every turn and sticking to the “tried and true?”
Honestly, I see both sides of the situation. It’s important to have people in the picture who get the history of the organization. But it’s also crucial to bring in new energy on a regular basis to reinvigorate the operation.
So instead of complaining about all of the work falling on the same shoulders all the time, infuse your organization with a little creativity! Determine what your group can do not only to honor the long-time contributors but also welcome new ideas. (AND new members!)
Having a variety of people from different generations in a group is a beautiful thing. But it can also land an organization in a stalemate situation.
Think of it–how many times have you heard the older generation complain that “kids these days” are entitled, lazy, and have no respect for the things their elders have accomplished?
The younger generation, on the other hand, often falls into the same kind of complaint cycle–that their elders are stodgy, set in their ways, and stuck in their mindset.
But both cases are just perspectives. We don’t need to judge the rightness or the wrongness in it all. We need to listen to one another, and embrace the best that both sides have to offer.
It starts with the desire to care. That is the basis of empathy. And empathy is how we bridge the generational divide.
So the senior members of the group need to let go of the control, the past, and the tradition for the sake of “how it’s always been done.” And the junior members need to remember and honor the hard work and dedication that the veterans did to get us where we are.
And both sides need to appreciate the unique perspectives that they bring to the table, and use both of them to build something that is to the benefit of all.
In cases like these, creativity allows us to build instead of burn bridges.
There’s a lot of talk out there that rural America is dying. And there are some legitimate trends and evidence that seems to hold up this claim.
Those of us who live in small towns can’t pretend things aren’t changing just because we wish it weren’t. But what we can do is make plans for the future. We can open up to new ideas, try new things, and keep the vision of being relevant 20 years from now.
That, of course, takes creativity!
In my small town, I’m working with others to find creative ways to market our community. We’re creating new ways to use the resources we already to draw in new residents, bring in new businesses, and help our communities stay relevant.
Of course, in small communities, there tends to be a lot of old-school thoughts and beliefs. But if you’re willing to work with others in your community, church, and civic groups, creativity can be a catalyst for positive and growth-based change.
And if we find ways to work together to build a better future, we can indeed save our committees. Our schools. Our churches. And our communities as a whole.
It starts with a vision of what you want for your hometown. Once you know the answer, that’s where creativity comes in. Creativity means continually coming back to the same question,“Is what we’re doing right now serving our future vision? And if not, how do we correct course?”
So despite the challenges that small communities present, thinking with a little more imagination and open-mindedness can change everything. Nothing is ever stuck or stagnant unless you choose to make it so.
Because honestly, most change isn’t scary. In fact, a lot of it can be great. It’s just that ALL change is hard.
But change driven by expansion-minded creativity can feel like a renewal.
And the result just might be preserving and improving life in your own hometown.
So what do you think? Are you involved in your community, and have you ever run up against these common roadblocks to small-town organizations? Come on over to the Groove Seekers Community and share your experiences!
It’s where all of the best discussions happen, and I would love to see you there! Join us and connect with like-minded women from all over the country who are living big in their small towns!