Nothing is more cringe inducing when you are in the middle of conversation about projects and activities at the ideation stage either at work or in the community, when the voices of caution and timidity start chiming in; “that seems risky” or “I don’t know if the community will support this?” and my all-time favorite “that’s now how we do things here.” Internally the risk takers are screaming, but often we cannot get upset with the messenger, they usually deliver this cautiousness in an earnest knowing way; as if risky projects are initiated all the time in this mid-size city and they are unmitigated disasters. With no overwhelming evidence of high risk successes or consequentially spectacular epic failures I would say that these comments deserve to be banished, especially at the ideation phase.
In the new book “Thank you for Being Late” Thomas Friedman talks about us living in an age of rapid accelerations, a world in which societal progress, technological advancements are happening at speeds that exceed the grasp of imagination, much less our capacity to deal with them. As the rapid progress (Dayton’s version) is occurring in our city, we have to acknowledge and accept that we are still behind other cities of a comparative size. If every city in the world, and this is a global competition, is reaching for the same sort of civic projects and rebranding, then old tropes, lack of imagination and fear cannot be the starting point for any conversation or dialogue or path forward in developing our city. We all hear a lot of talk about our rich inventive history, our vibrant art scene, but scant talk about what this will look like in the future. Forecasting or visioning a stellar future requires huge imaginative leaps of faith and intellectual curiosity.
In my first year of Graduate school at Ohio State during our Fall convocation, a wonderful Professor of Climatology and Geology gave a great speech about his research in the field of drilling for ice core samples in a glacier in the Andes mountains. His fondest wish for us as incoming first year graduate students was to embolden ourselves to take extraordinary risks of failure in our research endeavors, “If you are not living on the edge, you are just taking up space!” To that end where is the “edge” for Dayton? We have seen the effects of businesses deserting downtown, white flight to the suburbs, certain industries vanishing right before our eyes, and a litany of common social ills. On this front we are not unique, rebuilding our community by embracing/avoiding historical occurrences good or bad, blinds us to the rich potential of the future. In 2001 the late iconic French actress Jeanne Moreau stated in the Guardian Newspaper that nostalgia is “terrible” and poses a threat to life. “The life you had is nothing,” she said. “It is the life you have that is important.”
Every Sunday I visit my parents and family. Our weekly get-togethers are spirited, lively and a much needed recharge from prior week. This past Sunday I was watching a segment on WHIO about the future of the Dayton Airport, which contained some very good talking points for adapting to the new ways people engage and embrace air travel. In talking about plans for the future the conversation turned towards discussions about embracing Millennial habits and their needs as travelers. I remember shouting at the television screen that “it is too late to embrace change to attract millennials it is time to start concentrating on the emerging habits of Generation Z.”
This conversation to me underscores the need for dreaming about big and extraordinary things. That we need to be redirecting our energies towards the future, or we will be in a perpetual state of catching up to rapidly accelerating societal forces. We need to envision what will Dayton be in 2050.
I am an avid and voracious reader of Vogue magazine, as well as the Economist, Dance magazine, Wired, Fast Company, Flaunt, GQ, Town and Country, Washington Post, New York Times, Art Forum and scores of others periodicals. These are windows in the current society we live in and the future we are heading towards. I read in rotation at least six books at a time, fiction and non-fiction works across a broad spectrum of topics. And I have at least five jobs and art projects that keep me going at all times, which sustains me in ways that go beyond mere monetary compensation. I am not unique or alone, this is the Gig economy in all its glory. Non-traditional modalities for income, for connecting to purposeful work and being a global citizen are the norm. No more thirty year careers at the same company and retiring, no gold watch, but I think we get something much better in return, the freedom of untethered possibilities. This a global career phenomenon with a growing local prominence.
Which begs the question; what are the new global economic realities on the horizon and beyond? How do we make Dayton adaptable and edgy enough to be receptive to these possibilities? It can no longer be a conversation about retention of talent but also a parallel track of attracting talent, fresh blood and new ideas. New ideas that might be so radical that they scare us or whose impact cannot be readily ascertainable. Ideas that are not safe or cautious. We have to live on that edge or we are doomed to be just taking up space.