The title might sound backwards. And in most cases it probably would be, but keep reading, I think you'll understand.
Sometimes the people of Alpena can be too nice. Don't think that I don't like having friendly, nice people who live here, because I love it! But when being nice means having the desire to include everyone, can it ever go too far and actually stand in the way of progress?
I attend a lot of meetings. Sometimes six or more a day. Given the number of meetings I've attended, I have a pretty clear understanding of some things that work well and some things that don't work so well. One of the things I've learned is that when you try to be all things to all people, a project can fizzle fast. What works well is when someone has a passion for something, finds others who share that passion, and moves forward without putting too much effort into trying to please everyone on their journey to a successful project.
At this point you might be asking, "But what about buy-in?" or, "What about stakeholders, doesn't their opinion matter?" Sure. The leaders of the best projects strategically recruit the strongest partners who all share the same vision. They don't try to convince everyone to share their vision. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team, and when a project is successful, people join the movement, wanting to be part of something. Momentum and buy-in slowly start to build.
Projects frequently start the opposite way. We try to convince everyone to share the vision first. That approach often falls flat because all of the energy is spent trying to please others in an attempt to convince them to share the vision. The project ends up losing what made it unique in the first place. It quickly becomes a project that is "something for everyone" and therefore just like everyone else's, "something for everyone."
Think of a successful business. Would that business be as successful if it had catered to everyone's desires? The answer is no. No person, business, government or community can be everything to everyone. I believe the all-inclusive approach has stalled several great projects in this community. Although we are a small community, we cannot be all-inclusive, all the time, if we want to grow. We are allowed to operate in an exclusive manner when it comes to getting things done. Businesses do it all the time - why shouldn't a community? I realize a community is not a business, but if we want to grow then we need to adopt a business mindset for some of the things we want to accomplish.
I was frustrated the other day when someone who has a very strong vision and an opportunity to take a huge leap forward made the comment that he wanted to achieve his vision, "little pieces at a time so everyone will be happy." Sometimes we do have to achieve our vision slowly but the opportunity to take a giant leap was staring him in the face. What I really heard him say was that he was paralyzed by the feeling that he had to be all-inclusive and he felt the only way around that was to slowly sneak up on people with tiny little increments of change.
He has a great idea. It will be fantastic for the community. He is choosing to get there over the course of several years instead of in less than one year. He isn't the only one with a project that has been halted because he is trying to please too many people. What effect has this had on the progress of our community?
I don't think using an exclusive approach is always appropriate. I just believe we try to be all-inclusive far too often. I believe it has impacted the community. It has affected our perceptions, attitudes and self-esteem. By taking the all-inclusive approach we may have stripped some opportunities for people to be passionate about projects. People need projects to champion and be passionate about. Communities need passionate people.
If you are holding back on something because you are afraid not everyone will like it, I'm asking you to get over that way of thinking. Stop caring what everyone thinks and care about what you believe in and what your champions believe in. Do not let yourself or any good project become paralyzed by the attempt to be all-inclusive.
I started out by saying the people of Alpena are too nice. I didn't really mean that. Please don't stop being likable people. But don't ever let the desire to be all things to all people stand in the way of a great thing.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column appears bi-weekly on Tuesday,