The Next 10 Years

Innovationby Rob White

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.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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5 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    ““this is a time for global innovation and disruptive ideas, but they need a supporting and nurturing ecosystem.”

    i agree with the overall inspirational message of your article, and would like to add a perspective that I think is often overlooked by those who see “change” and “growth” as synonymous. I believe that what the quote above does not take into account is that innovation and disruptive ideas not only need a supporting and nurturing ecosystem, but they themselves must enhance the natural ecosystem in which we all must live.

    1. Rob White

      Tia – I would agree. The word “change” has nothing even close to growth as a meaning. I looked. Its synonyms are alter, make over, modify, recast, redo, refashion, remake, remodel, revamp, revise, rework, vary. No growth in there. I did find these synonyms for “innovation” – change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, breakthrough.

      I think I am safe to say that my article should be interpreted as supportive of some changes, which may or may not entail growth. And the term growth should be looked at as a relative term as well.

      In the case of Davis, I suspect you are right that growth is the departure point for our community dialogue, not really innovation or change. I do think that the process of changing and innovating can lead to growth, and we are currently having a community dialogue on what that means in relation to an innovation park. That dialogue will gain real momentum when the City has received an actual project application. Until then, we are really just discussing possibilities and extrapolating what advantages and disadvantages such a project might bring.

      But I will add this to the mix… the term “growth” is not an inherently bad thing. We use the term for children becoming adults, for our own personal life journeys and for describing our interpersonal relationships. And yes, we also use it negatively in relation to describing cancer and other diseases. But the word is just a term, and we can define for Davis what it means.

      Obviously, Davis had to grow at different points in its life. Otherwise many residents wouldn’t be part of the community. Old North Davis refers to a part that is older than the newer part. And that happened decades ago. The community has stated that there is a preference for densification of the downtown core, and that means 1 and 2 story buildings will have to become 2 and 3 stories (and in some cases 4). This renewal is change, but it is also growth. And the growth is what pays the tab for the renewal.

      And I think this is the link between change/innovation and growth for Davis. We want to renew our civic amenities and public assets… based on today’s financial structures, we will therefore need to increase (grow) the opportunities for revenue. We get to make the choices from the menu of revenue options (sales tax, property tax, transient occupancy tax, fees, permits, assessments, infrastructure districts, etc.). And we have chosen to not build large retail centers like Vacaville and West Sac, not have big box warehouse stores, deemphasize cars (reducing sales tax on gas), and to build lots of public amenities (parks, pools, ball fields, paths, greenbelts, open space, bike lanes, etc). So our options are narrower in which to raise the required revenue to maintain (and someday renew) our quality of life amenities.

      We are now at a time as a Davis community that we will need to make some vital choices. Reduce services, increase taxes/fees/assessments, or allow for some amount of measured growth that diversifies and increases our revenue base beyond the current framework. These are all options, and I suspect there are enumerable ways to mix and match them. And has been previously discussed, staff have created efficiencies to their best ability and still carry on a similar workload that we had when there were 40 to 50 more staff.

      We are lucky that we have a university and an innovation community that wants to grow… that wants to increase the economic base and increase city revenue. There are trade offs for the Davis community, to be sure. And I suspect surrounding communities will be happy to take these businesses and the diversified economies they bring. I propose that we be honest with ourselves about the self-limiting menu board of options on how to fix our revenue issues and determine if we can personally and collectively get to a place were we can innovate, collaborate, and partner with the businesses, researchers and entrepreneurs to help them help us.

      So, I agree with your statements, but I would say that our narrowing field of options to raise revenue demands we make harder decisions than many of our neighbors. We aren’t recovering from the Great Recession in a similar way to our neighbors and similar cities throughout California because we have made specific choices over time, and these lead us to different outcomes. This is not a judgment, just an assessment of how we got here and what options have presented themselves.

      Obviously, I am happy to be shown through factual, data-driven discussion where we might have solutions that I have not catalogued here. I would love nothing better than for someone to innovate a way to success that requires very little community effort and solves our issues. I suspect that doesn’t exist, but I am open to it!

  2. Matt Williams

    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.

    Solis’ words above do a good job of describing the crossroads UC Davis is currently traversing. Their research/educational focus is for the most part agriculturally based, and the positive impact that UCD can have on the quality of life around the World is mind-boggling.

    UCD describes its 2020 Initiative (see http://chancellor.ucdavis.edu/initiatives/2020_Initiative/index.html ) as “A Path to Academic Excellence and Economic Opportunity.” To my thinking that Initiative leverages our community’s core competencies and is consistent with the character of Davis and Yolo County and the Region … and if we build on those core competencies in a manner that is consistent with the character of our community, we will chart a path to a fiscally, environmentally and socially sustainable future.

  3. Davis Progressive

    seems like every generation believes that the next generation will see disruptive thinking. and there is disruptive thinking and the world is changing.

    i’m all for change, what i’m not for is fundamentally re-writing davis’ dna. i’m counting on people like rob white to make sure the new vision of davis can fit within the framework of what currently makes davis a great place to live.

    1. Matt Williams

      Well said, DP. Extremely well said. Especially the second paragraph.

      With that said, Rob can not do it alone. We the residents of this community need to help with the heavy lifting.

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