Apr 182013
A look down Downtown Kansas City streets today.

A look down Downtown Kansas City streets today. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is more general than Kansas City, really, but I’m finding that putting “in Kansas City” in the title of my posts tends to create a lot more discussion (and anger, but I’m a big boy).  I’m thinking of it being the new phrase I add to the end of fortune cookie fortunes.  “The dragon of opportunity also breathes fire… in Kansas City.”

I was thinking about this, because I see a lot of effort being expended in Kansas City, but I’m not sure I see all that effort producing many helpful results.  This could possibly be a side effect of startup culture – the assumption that doing something is the same as improving or getting good results.  It doesn’t matter if your business idea is sustainable or marketable, it only matters that you start it.

And I understand to a point.  It’s a necessary corrective in an economy where people are afraid to start, disrupt, do, or finish.  You have to get people past the initial hurdle before you can even talk about anything else, and that initial hurdle is usually starting.  Doing something.

Unfortunately, this is where the conversation usually stops.  If someone is doing something, we laud them for it.  Well, ok, fair enough, but success isn’t defined by expending effort; success is defined by results.  If I bust my butt trying to help developers get jobs, and I don’t get any of them a single job, that might mark me as having an altruistic heart, but it doesn’t mean I’ve been good for Kansas City (or whatever community you happen to be in).  Nobody says, “The Chiefs are such an awesome team; look at how much training they do!”  They want points on the scoreboard.

So, I’ve made a checklist for myself.  It’s not comprehensive, but it does help me continually measure whether I’m actually making an impact in my community or just generating a lot of activity:

  1. Did I help someone get a job or create a job for someone to fill?
  2. Did I help a company increase their profits, lower their expenses, or protect assets that would otherwise have been at risk?
  3. Did I help people, in any line of work, deliver more value?
  4. Did I help a person or an organization who stumbled get back into the race?

That’s my personal scorecard in the Game o’ Improving Kansas City.  This is not my scorecard for all aspects of life, but for measuring my impact in Kansas City’s economy, it’s a decent one.  I put numbers to each of those and, most months or quarters, I can.  And I’m just one person who is a relative nobody.  Just think of what groups with actual money and clout could do.

As Eli Goldratt once said, “Tell me how you measure me, and I’ll tell you how I behave.”  As you can see, a scorecard like mine drives certain behaviors, or at the very least, puts those behaviors in context.  It allows me to identify low value and high value activities.  It allows me to measure success.

So, in terms of impact, here are examples of the things that matter most:

  • Hooking people up with job openings that are good fits or, secondarily, referring people to the extremely small number of recruiters that I trust.
  • Helping an organization identify where their biggest gains would come from in terms of hiring new people.
  • Teaching people skills that make them more marketable and/or enable them to perform better and deliver more value to their organizations.
  • Turning around a struggling business.

Here are examples of the things that don’t have much impact at all:

  • Blogging
  • Creating or hosting “events”
  • Tweeting
  • Meeting with like-minded people so I can continue to agree with myself

Obviously, I enjoy some the things on that second list and get value out of them, and they generate some value in their way, but in terms of measuring actual points on the scoreboard that impact Kansas City economically, they mean almost nothing.

Interestingly, when you look at the various entities trying to do this or that for Kansas City, we tend to be very good at that second group of examples, but not so demonstrably good at the first group.  We’re very good at creating entities and generating interest and energy (and occasionally funding), but we’re not so good at actually delivering valuable contributions.

And lest I be misunderstood on perhaps the most potentially ire-generating point in this post: creating and hosting an event in and of itself is a very low value activity that helps nobody, except maybe the venue you paid to host it, and we create TONS of events.

Did your event create new jobs?  Did it put people in jobs?  Did it save any company any money?  Did it help them make more money?  Did it get capital to someone who needs it?  Did it revive a failing business?  Did it enhance anyone’s job security, marketability, or ability to deliver more value than they had before?  If the answer to one or more of those questions is yes, then your event made a positive impact in the community!  Otherwise, it might have been a fun event, but the net effect of it was nothing.  Lots of effort, no points on the scoreboard.

Like I said, our strength as a city seems to be talking, getting things going, building up buzz, generating motivation… we have a hard time delivering anything that actually changes anything.

So, my challenge to you, whether you are an individual or an organization that is trying to improve business in Kansas City, is this:

Don’t just start things; start the right things.  You don’t need to plan all the details of your endeavor before you begin, but you do need to know what success looks like and how you’ll measure it.  Spend your time on the activities that will generate actual impact as opposed to perceived impact.  Change lives.  Improve the economy.

I’m definitely on your side.

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  7 Responses to “Are You Helping Kansas City?”

  1. I strongly disagree. I think you are missing the facts necessary to differentiate “actual impact” from “perceived impact,” which is leading you to jump to a conclusion that is not correct.

    I’ll give one concrete example. Last year at one of the “events” that supposedly don’t create actual impact, we helped a business to start. We didn’t know that’s what we were doing, as we were just building an app and “having fun,” but that productive work rolled. At the event we met people that grew into real connections and assistance. Others saw what we were doing and asked for more or for different things. All of this activity eventually turned into a new business with new jobs and new hope.

    On the outside, you could look at that event, shrug, and say, “Gosh, what really came of this?” And how would you know? It’s not like this information is posted on a billboard. But that ignorance doesn’t change the fact that the event helped to start something that turned into something much bigger and better months later.

    I know of many other concrete examples like this. Events turning into businesses, blogging establishing credentials, reputation, and spread information that others use (without you possibly seeing it). Tweeting creating contacts and jobs (but perhaps not yours). Meetings with like-minded people creating a positive atmosphere for people to start things that they otherwise may not have done (but without announcing it to you). There’s just a lot of positive stuff going on around these things, enough to make me believe that if it’s happening to me, it’s happening to others.

    So for your assertion that these groups aren’t really helping the Kansas City area, the only suggestion I can offer is for you to gather more facts. The facts are out there, but I don’t think you’re seeing them. The KC groups I’ve participated in have done nothing but benefit my life and career, and I’m grateful for the people who put the efforts into running them.

    • Hey Darren, fair enough, good points, and a good critique. There are definitely results that can come out of things that aren’t necessarily intended to generate those results, and I kind of wrote those off with my big paintbrush.

      One thing, though, is that I think you might have read me a little too extremely. My point isn’t that groups that hold events don’t help Kansas City, or even that groups that hold events aren’t helpful. My point was that an event in and of itself is just activity. You can’t say, “We’re really helping Kansas City because we’re having lots of events.” The measure of helpfulness is in the useful things that do (or don’t) come out of such events.

      • I agree with you on that point. You can’t say you are helping KC because you host lots of events.

        I don’t know what groups you could mean, I guess. The group that ran the event in my example, KCITP, does a lot of the “second list” sort of stuff. On the outside, you could look at each individual thing and ask, “Gosh, what’s the point?” But my point is that there’s a lot of stuff happening on the inside that you may not be seeing, and over time all of that effort has gained traction.

        Your reply “There are definitely results that can come out of things that aren’t necessarily intended to generate those results, and I kind of wrote those off with my big paintbrush.” seems to be dismissing the results as if they were not intended. With all of the groups that I participate with, I believe those results are the goal. Their “second list” activity is the means to achieve those goals.

        • I was definitely not thinking about KCITP, which is a group I firmly support. I’m not sure I would agree KCITP does mostly second list activities. Although they have several events, the events are mostly geared around finding jobs or professional development.

          Which may be what you’re trying to say, that second list activities can still accomplish things from the first list, and I entirely agree. But those second list activities can also just be clouds of activity that don’t actually advance anything.

      • It was nice talking to you in person today! 😀

        I tend to write English like I write code. To the point, little fat. I sound so mean.

  2. Seriously!

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