I was recently reading an article by Brian Solis, Principal Analyst at the Altimeter Group and author of What’s the Future of Business. You can find Solis on both the webpage for Altimeter, or the way I ran across him, through Linkedin. According to their website, Altimeter provides research and advisory for companies challenged by business disruptions, enabling them to pursue new opportunities and business models. They were also named by Fast Company Magazine as one of “The Five Most Creative Small Businesses in 2010” and have clients that make up 12 of the 30 Dow Jones Industrial Average companies.
The article, titled “The Dilemma’s Innovator: The Next 10 Years Will Either Happen To Us or Because of Us” caught my attention because of comments over the last few months on the Davis Vanguard in discussions about Davis’ future.
Solis makes several very bold comments in his article, like “I believe that the next 10 years is a decade that must be willed instead of unveiled” and “I believe that the next 10 years will be fueled by innovation that disrupts thinking, behavior and markets.” He goes on to say, “this is a time for global innovation and disruptive ideas, but they need a supporting and nurturing ecosystem.”
Another comment by Solis that was interesting in a Davis’ context was, “this is a time when anything and everything can be re-imagined. The way things are doesn’t necessarily reflect the way things ought to be. We have an opportunity to change the world and it starts with the way we see it for what it is and what we can make of it.”
But what really grabbed my attention was his statement of “imagine what the next 10 years could look like if we didn’t just pursue ideas but instead relentlessly ventured to solve problems or create opportunities. The difference between innovation and disruption is the affect [sic] on behavior and the impact on existing markets.”
“Not only are companies finding new ways to have a positive impact on society, they’re creating ecosystems that bring together disparate functions into a holistic and enjoyable experience. Sometimes these ideas are inspired because of the pain that’s felt in the absence of a solution. Sometimes a vision of possibility is what drives someone to create something new. Imagine if the next 10 years was built upon a foundation of both. It’s part design thinking and part systems thinking.”
In the discussions about Davis – as it existed in the past, how it is now in the present and what it might be in the future – it seems as though much of the conversation is relative to preference. As an example, 20 years ago Davis downtown did not have many of the amenities that we enjoy now. And of those that were there, many of them were at a very different scale. Take the Co-Op as one such example. Though its core business practice remains largely the same, the façade and physical plant of the store have changed and the types and varieties of offerings has grown. We could most certainly say it has changed, and most would probably agree that it is better now than then.
Now take Central Park, along with the Farmer’s Market and Bicycle Museum. There have been significant changes over time in the physical appearance of the facilities of the park and the scope of the offerings at the Farmer’s Market. Again, I think most would agree that the park, museum and market are all better now than 20 years ago.
Now we have Whole Foods, as well as many more restaurant choices, new retail choices, and abundant art than we had 20 years ago. We also have a number of businesses that have continued in the downtown over that time and they have taken time to improve their stores and services to the best of their ability to meet more modern demands. Because 20 years ago things like wifi and smart phones weren’t necessities, and computers weren’t mobile.
My point? What if we unshackled our imaginations for just a bit from the constraints of time and decided to think about what would make Davis great 10 years from now? What does this look like… knowing of course that the same forces that have given us so many of the things we like about Davis now will hopefully continue to drive decision-making. Will downtown be filled with even more retail and restaurant options? Will the very few storefronts that are empty be filled and some older buildings that are too expensive to repair be replaced with new, high-density options?
Will the rail relocation we are discussing now have materialized and the parking and buildings around the Amtrak station be reutilized in more efficient ways, providing for downtown housing and more commercial space? Will Nishi (or more correctly, Downtown/University Gateway District) be nearing completion and will a new hotel conference center be sitting on the site at Richards and Olive? Will technologist in their twenties and thirties – and their resultant tech companies – be living and working throughout the downtown? Will children of our residents and students that are graduating see Davis as a preferred choice for employment and want to stay because “this is where it’s all happening?”
I could go on to paint many more “what if” scenarios, but I think we all get the point. Many of our community leaders, young and old, chose to be in Davis for much the same reasons… and I suspect they include quality of life, sustainability, and community. And if our community has been changing the whole time, over decades, and we continue to arrive at the same conclusions that these characteristics are just as true today as they were 20 or even 30 years ago, isn’t it reasonable to expect that we can continue the trend? Even while we are changing?
Because the downtown of 20 years ago doesn’t exist. I hear about it all the time from people that come back to campus and comment about how incredible it all looks now. And I don’t think there are many that are advocating for us to return to that time, though we use words and voice opinions that may sound like it.
The Co-Op is not the same, and I think most would agree it’s better than ever. The new façade on the Hallmark Inn is amazing (in my opinion), including the new shops that create even more community gathering spaces. And the fact that we have Campus Corners means we now have the Whole foods that many dreamed about for a long time. Additionally, the university has changed dramatically, including adding a new (and most would say better) football field, a performing arts center, a wine institute, a new hotel, a conference and visitor’s center, and many other facilities for research and academic excellence.
I think that Solis’ article makes us confront our own perception of time and what we are really asking from ourselves. As much as we have grown carefully and been very deliberate in the decision-making, we have achieved some incredible outcomes. We are making a place that is special, that is unique… that is quite frankly, Davis.
So, when asked by community members about what I think or what I see, let me borrow from Solis and say “to influence the next 10 years takes ideas and execution… But the next 10 years [will also] require an imaginative and productive approach to problem solving and creativity that rethink the very things we take for granted today or under estimate in our ability to affect.”
And when asked what I think about the work of innovation as part of the community DNA, I might also borrow these words… “There are only two ways to influence human behavior: manipulate it or inspire it. Innovation begins with an idea on how to improve something that may or may not be broken. It’s driven by a higher purpose. It starts with vision. And it’s empathy that will ultimately provoke the core of your vision as an innovator.”
I recommend we take the long view and see all of the possibilities. Challenges are simply opportunities and we can make the next 10 years the best that Davis has ever seen, if we all agree to explore, create, and imagine a vision of the best Davis any of us could hope for. It might mean a little tweaking for each of our preferences to get the best holistic outcome, which I am confident that we can do… and like we have done over the last 20 years.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts and comments. My email is rwhite@cityofdavis,org if you choose to email me directly.