In my June 13 column, I discussed the Economic Development Leadership Council and their efforts to get engaged in the future economic development efforts in Eagle County as well as the Vail Valley Partnership’s desire to solicit input from the business community to build a comprehensive economic development plan. Kudos to these civic entrepreneurs for being engaged — after all, if you are not engaged in your community then someone else is speaking for you.
A key component to our future economic development and community growth is to build on our strengths; this applies to us as individuals, as organizations and businesses, and as a community.
The idea that you can be anything if you work hard enough is a dangerous myth and a potential downfall. After all, some people are inherently more gifted than others, regardless of how hard they work. As an example, Michael Jordan is athletically gifted and might be the best basketball player ever due in part to hard work, but he’s not a great golfer or a great baseball player although he puts in plenty of time at these sports. In both cases, he worked hard at refining his skills. Hard work had little to do with his lack of success at hitting a long iron or connecting with a curveball.
This analogy ties to our local economic development efforts in that it’s often a waste of energy to spend time focusing on what’s wrong instead of what’s right – essentially, building on our strengths.
The great Peter Drucker said it best when he stated,“It takes far less energy to move from first-rate performance to excellence than it does to move from incompetence to mediocrity.”
Gallup (the organization known for its public polls) runs “Strength Finder”; for those who are among the 8 million plus who have taken this assessment, you know that its goal is to start a global conversation about what’s right with people (strengths) as opposed to fixing what is wrong with people (weaknesses).
Gallup outlines a few distinct benefits of this strength-based approach and its application to business. Of specific interest, they have found that people who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged on the job. Teams that use their strengths are found to be 12.5 percent more productive and experience 8.9 percent greater profitability.
It is human nature to focus on a “weakness-based” approach still practiced in many schools and organizations (“you are strong at something, so that is fine; you are weak at something, therefore focus your energy on fixing that weakness”). As Mr. Drucker also said, “don’t solve problems, pursue opportunities.” Focusing on our weaknesses holds us back (as organizations or individuals) and prevents us from truly being exceptional at things we can control. Focusing on our strengths, and building from a foundation of strength, allows for much greater success.
How does this apply to our economic development efforts?
In 2010, as part of a statewide effort, we collectively identified tourism and outdoor recreation, health and wellness and education and learning as the three pillars of our economy in Eagle County. Tourism, health and wellness, and education and learning remain areas of strength in Eagle County based on most any metric including but certainly not limited to job creation, community assets and economic benefits as measured by sales tax collections.
The Economic Development Leadership Council, via smaller working groups, is helping to pursue opportunities for Eagle County as a place to do business by building off of our strengths.
This group is focusing on our inherent strengths in order to identify economic growth opportunities that could attract both baby-boomers and generation Y; focusing on the type of business (and person) that fits well in our community, such as an entrepreneur-type personality; and defining economic growth that ties to both individual income as well as sales tax revenues.
They are also focusing their efforts to help identify ways to support and grow our existing businesses — recognizing that our position of greatest strength is solidified by supporting and growing those that are already here. Again, a strength-based approach to enhance our business community from within remains a key strategy to our continued economic growth. This doesn’t mean we, as a community, shouldn’t put effort toward other areas of economic development; rather, it means we should continue to focus on what we do well and not forget what has worked well in the past.
This strength-based approach bodes well for the future and is something that individuals and organizations alike can benefit from.
Chris Romer is the president and CEO of the Vail Valley Partnership.