October 21, 2008

Create The Future You Want

I had the distinct joy last week of hearing Cory Booker speak to over 900 leaders in my city of Memphis. Booker is the mayor of Newark, New Jersey who has set out to rescue his city from urban decay and reposition Newark as a world class, family friendly place to live. Mayor Booker spoke eloquently and passionately about what it takes to influence change in an entrenched, tolerant, complacent environment that suffers from a mindset that says this is the way we do things here. "The problem," he said, "is that people suffer from lack of imagination and are paralysed by fear."

The solution for Mayor Booker's efforts in Newark, and for any leader attempting to create a culture of innovation and creative progress, is "to have a clear vision, bold ideas, and the willingness to work long and hard despite the many, many people who do not believe that it is possible or necessary."

The engine of his change machine is instilling a sense of personal responsibility for the future in each individual. He called for the citizens of Newark to stop tolerating less than -- less than in their school system, less than in the crime occurences, less than in the quality of city services, less than in the fabric of their neighborhoods.

Mayor Booker inspires hopeful action, "The current times - despite economic difficulties; despite fear -- are an opportunity for us to show our mettle, our strength. That is what we, as Americans, do. We endure. We invent. We commit to values that our current realities show that we have lost sight of."

Mayor Booker envisioned a better future for Newark. This was his guiding vision as he set out to reinvent his hometown:

Newark will set a national standard for urban transformation
by marshaling its resources to achieve security,
economic abundance and an environment
that is nurturing and empowering for families.


Booker carries a slip of paper with this vision statement on it in his pocket. In essence, he wears this vision and works to create it in every action and interaction.

The enemy of bold imagination and bold action, Booker says, is incrementalism. "You just won't get where you want to be my trying to retool irrelevant and outmoded ideas and systems. Better," Mayor Booker advises, "is to work backward from the vision and let the process of meeting a challenge and problem solving flow downward from the vision. Life is too short," he says, "to not know what you stand for and not to believe in your ability to accomplish your dream."

If ever you get the chance to hear Newark Mayor Cory Booker, go early and sit in the front. It is an inspiring experience. Go, not because you care about urban planning, but because you believe in dreams and because you believe, as he does, that our greatest talent and strength and human desire is to be creative.

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