Focusing on the future of small towns

O ur colleagues at the University of North Alabama and Mississippi State have introduced Strategic Doing to four small towns. (This museum shows the importance of these towns to the history and culture of Mississippi.) To introduce Strategic Doing, our colleagues developed a new version of Strategic Doing: The Game.

Based in Sweet Tea, Mississippi, the Game introduced participants to how to form complex collaborations quickly and keep them on track. In many ways, this work in Mississippi takes Strategic Doing back to its roots. From 1995 to 1999, I was experimenting with new approaches to strategy in small towns in Kentucky.

Working with the Cabinet for Economic Development, we assembled small teams of economic development professionals. These teams went to rural counties in Kentucky – the counties outside Kentucky’s growth belt – and address the strategic challenges.

In the space of only two days, we would develop a strategy with an action plan. We left the county with clear commitments to act and a promise to return in about six months for a check up. When the cabinet reviewed the success of this program, they evaluated the 22 counties we visited and found that 18 of them made measurable progress.

Here’s an example. In Horse Cave, Kentucky, we focused our strategic action plan on the downtown. When we arrived, the downtown was a mess: trash on the streets, overgrown weeds, a dilapidated hotel on the outskirts of downtown.  Now, Horse Cave has a model downtown. The dilapidated hotel is gone. You can check out their website to see more.

So, small rural towns to have a future, but only if the citizens come together and design it.  Then they must put their ideas into action by focusing relentlessly on doing the doable.  That’s the path that four towns in Mississippi started down this week. Here’s a short video to explain what took place this week in Tupelo.

Ed Morrison is Director of the Purdue Agile Strategy Lab. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For the past five or six years, he has been developing new, agile approaches to strategy in open, loosely joined networks, a discipline he calls Strategic Doing. Prior to starting his economic development work, Ed worked for Telesis, a corporate strategy consulting firm. In this position, he served on consulting teams for clients such as Ford Motor Company, Volvo, and General Electric. He conducted manufacturing cost studies in the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Canada, Italy, Sweden, and France. Ed started his professional career in Washington, D.C., where he has served as a legislative assistant to an Ohio Congressman, staff attorney in the Federal Trade Commission, and staff counsel in the US Senate. He holds a BA degree cum laude with honors from Yale University and MBA and JD degrees from the University of Virginia.

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