The Difficulty of Innovating

It’s difficult to imagine New York without Central Park, the lungs of the city and the space you can retreat to in the urban jungle. Yet that took vision and foresight in a time when urban planning and public spaces weren’t as valued as they are today.

The Denver architect David Tryba recommended the biography of Frederick Law Olmsted by Rybczynski ,  “A Clearing in the Distance”, to me. It’s a good read to think about urban spaces, public spaces, framing the community dialogue and the importance of innovating.

The most interesting passage to me was that in which Rybczynski describes the difficulty of being yourself, of innovating before something is widely understood in society:

“Olmsted was an organizer when organization was considered a symptom of “monomania,” and a long-range planner in a period that thought of planning as “mysterious.” He was a landscape architect before that profession was founded, designed the first large suburban community in the United States, foresaw the need for national parks, and devised one of the country’s first regional plans. Above all, he was an artist who chose to work in a medium that then– even more than now– lacked public recognition. He was an innovator and pioneer largely by chance. But, as Louis Pasteur, an exact contemporary of Olmsted, once observed, ‘Chance favors only the mind that is prepared.’ Olmsted’s preparation was not based on formal training or education. What laid the groundwork for his later achievements was an amalgam of sensibility and temperament, coupled with an unusual set of formative experiences.”
(page 23, Chapter Two)


“Taking Risks” implies being able to do so

Ron Ragin from the Rauschenberg Foundation made a very eloquent statement about fear and the reality of taking risks. The Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) held their annual DinnerVention in the Gallery this week and you can hear Ron speak of this starting at hour 1:09. The dinner called together young cultural policy thinkers to think about new solutions for the field. New solutions, of course, always imply risk. Ron highlighted, as a precursor to even being able to go down that road, that we must ask who is in a position to take risks.

“Most of the people we all work with and are alluding to, have something to lose…Legitimately, what governs so much decision-making about where we are able to take risks, individually, organizationally, institutionally, network-wise, whatever, has to do with how we’ve organized power and how we have positioned ourselves to be able to do that in a structural way.”

Ron continues: “If I have a mortgage and a baby to feed and daycare to pay for, I’m not going to come talking some mess to my boss that’s going to get me in trouble so that I might lose my job and my health insurance, if I have a major illness.”

See the DinnerVention video.
Read about the participants.


Managing Risk

We all throw around the word “risk” as if we held a venomous snake nonchalantly, but sometimes it bites. I’ve certainly taken many, too many to recount, risks in my life. Many have been very successful, and some, not so much. I will try to pass on some coping mechanisms for when things get rough…

PATIENCE – Some Risks Take a Long Time to Pan Out

Very few people have the patience to wait a few years for something really good to work out. You find out early-on who is in it for the long haul.

Some Things Are Just Not Worth Your Time

You will find out as you try different things, that some of them are just not worth your time. They seemed like a good strategy at the start, but they are more complicated than you hoped, or generate more conflict or ambiguity than you hoped. Get rid of those things immediately.

Accept That Taking Risks is UGLY

People get upset when things don’t work out. You can lose money. You can work very hard and still have what you’re trying to accomplish not work out.

Know Your Conflict Management Style

When things don’t work out, you need to employ conflict resolution strategies. Most of us don’t think about the fact that there are many different ones. If your style is “conflict avoidance,” for example, you might delay responding. Consciously analyzing how you are coping with difficult situations is fundamental to being successful in them.