CEOs for Cities workshop in Pittsburgh
By: Andrew Butcher
Little Bets + Positive Deviants = Social Capital
An equation for innovation
Most problems don’t have an easy answer. Most greatness isn’t achieved without considerable adversity. Even our most basic needs requires significant care and attention – just ask my 10-day-old son. In this spirit, most cities aren’t organic bastions of fairness, health, access and opportunity. This reality was presented front and center at the recent CEOs For Cities workshop in Pittsburgh with a stark confrontation that the more innovative – i.e. prosperous – we try to make our cities and economies, the more challenging it is to create equitable opportunity for all.
On one hand cities represent the messy mash up of civilization that spawns the stuff of life, but it’s clear there’s an art and science to making smart, desirable, just, resilient, healthy, creative, flavorful places– just ask Toni Griffen. As the “science” of urban design has matured and evolved over the generations, designers have asserted bold realizations that we (humanity) like living close to each other, we like walking and green spaces. (More green space means less stress, less stress means healthier lives!) The good news is that art, local food, fun, meaningful vocation and diverse relationships are good for us. The bad news is that all of the above are often unattainable, inaccessible and simply non-existent for certain populations. That’s tough news for Pittsburgh, as we (Pittsburghers) aspire to be innovative and inclusive against a stark backdrop of disinvestment and poverty in areas in Our City.
So how are we to take this harrowing news as we pause and reflect around the choices to grow strong markets or to concentrate in the most under-invested places? Why are we constantly deluded into thinking that the “game changing innovations” will catalyze our prosperity? When the only constant is change – why do we bank so much on things not changing?
… true breakthrough innovation isn’t derived from singular, top-down, game-changing initiatives; they come about through small, tangible, incremental iterations of ideas that are crafted and adapted to changing situations.
In this context it was helpful to be reminded by Peter Sims – keynote speaker at CEO for Cities and author of Little Bets – that true breakthrough innovation isn’t derived from singular, top-down, game-changing initiatives; they come about through small, tangible, incremental iterations of ideas that are crafted and adapted to changing situations. Even more so, Sims points out that true cultural shifts come about by passionate, creative, motivated people who work to put their bold ideas into action through creative, tangible, (sometimes) eccentric efforts. According to Sims, these individuals are the BLKSHP (“Black Sheep”), those who are frustrated and have a different way of doing things. Once again I feel as is Sims has written the playbook for GTECH, as our Ambassadors – positive deviants in their own right – forge unlikely relationships to mobilize networks towards greater community benefit through tangible actions.
My take away is that little bets + positive deviants equals increased social capital. When we have abundant social capital then innovation can take root in unlikely places with unlikely partnerships. It is those unlikely partnerships that can flourish into a rich urban ecosystem and is innovative because it is inclusive.
Many thanks to the Hillman Foundation, Urban Innovation 21, the LUMA Institute, the Forbes Funds, The Sprout Fund, Fourth Economy Consulting, Mayor Bill Peduto, the Heinz Endowments, CEOs For Cities and Peter Sims for this spotlight on applied innovation.