Saturday, September 29, 2012

More than Bourbon

Kentucky is many things but if you happen to travel to the northwest portion of the state, you will think that Kentucky equals bourbon. The area just south and east of Louisville is dotted with distilleries, many of them famous. Maker's Mark and Jim Beam, among others, make their product here in the hills. 

After spending five days there, I can't figure out why the residents think bourbon is the only reason to visit. I toured a distillery years ago and once was enough to satisfy my curiousity. On this trip, I wanted to see other things. That proved to be more difficult that it should be.

The residents of the area assume that all visitors are there to follow the bourbon trail, hopping from one distillery to another. Most of them, while delightfully pleasant and kind, are clueless about other things that might interest visitors. Things like the magnificent knobs (hills) covered with trees that must offer spectacular views in the fall. Or the little town of Glendale with its charming shops.  In fact, when we said we were not following the bourbon trail, most people couldn't figure out why we came.

When we think fall color, Vermont or Wisconsin or Michigan come to mind. We could also include northwest Kentucky. Sadly, neither the county nor the state is capitalizing on the beauty of the area. There are no fall festivals, no Halloween Haunts, nothing to draw people in. The few parks that exist are mentioned in passing in the literature but unless one reads very carefully, one is apt to think there isn't much there. Thankfully a woman at a visitor's center stressed the 14,000 acre Bernheim Arboretum or we might have missed the many miles of hiking trails and the beautiful views found inside. 

I hope Kentucky, and particularly the counties in this area, take a step back and consider the great natural gift they have that has nothing to do with bourbon. Perhaps in the future, they will. And perhaps that will encourage them to develop new ways to engage tourists and residents both. Then again, perhaps I don't understand. It is possible that the residents don't want strangers or their money coming in. Maybe advertising only the bourbon trail is a way to control outsiders and keep them away from the rest of the area.  

Either way, it's all about communication. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

What Are You Hiding?

I used to live in a village that broadcast its board meetings.  While the discussion of whether or not to approve the minutes was hardly on a par with NCIS, most citizens were interested in the new businesses that were coming to town, what the mayor had planned for the 4th of July celebration, and how the budget looked. We felt knowledgeable and it was one of the few times I went into the voting booth knowing exactly who stood for what because I had seen how they voted.

A few years ago, I moved to a town that does not televise its meetings.  Periodically there are articles in the local paper questioning that and the excuse is always the same - there's no money in the budget for it.  This was the justification even when the village was rolling in dough during the height of the real estate bubble.

I have to wonder why those in charge of our town feel that televising the board meetings is unimportant.  Or perhaps I don't need to speculate at all.  When it comes to local politics, the less said, the better?  No doubt, the village trustees fear what the citizens might hear in an unguarded and heated discussion moment.  

We all assume business is conducted at the meetings but possibly they spend an hour or two playing bridge. Who's to know?

Good communication in government has nothing to do with politics. It is about fostering a sense of community. Residents want to know what's going on and that's getting harder and harder.  In an age when local news comes from foreign writers (see my post from July 5 - Local News from Faraway Places), televised village meetings are more important than ever.

So my fingers are crossed that things will change and in the meantime, my neighbors and I keep guessing about what's going on behind those closed doors.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dream Team Offers Miracles?

Labor Day weekend was a sports movie weekend for me.  It wasn't planned that way, of course. However, thanks to Netflix, Moneyball arrived in our mailbox. We followed that with Miracle (1980 gold-medal winning US hockey team).

What intrigued me about both films was that each said the same basic thing but seven years apart. Is that a miracle or a dream?

The 1980 hockey team was made up of amateurs. As the movie stated, with professionals now winning gold medals, there are no Olympic dreams for young athletics. The "dream" label is applied slap-dash to professional teams without regard to the deeper meaning. If someone aspires to play hockey in the Olympics, they must first become a pro hockey player. The same is true of basketball and many other sports in the Olympics. Not a pro? No medal dreams for you.

A similar point was made in Moneyball.  Desparate to level a playing field ruled by wealthy teams like the Yankees, the Oakland A's devised a new method of selecting players for their team. Their advantage didn't last long.  As soon as the big money teams saw the validity of the analytical method, they adopted it and threw money at it.  Goodbye advantage. The A's were right back where they started, unable to compete for players and serving as a glorified farm system for well-heeled teams.

What do these two films tell us? What are they trying to communicate?

  • First, the movies show us a bit of our history, one about which I know very little. 
  • Second, we meet some fascinating people that I wouldn't mind actually knowing. 
  • Third, we see that sport is business.  Wins or medals are the way we determine our success. Being part of the game is not enough. How the game is played is no longer the point. The only goal is winning. 
  • Fourth, neither approach to hiring and management is inherently bad if properly applied. Using the Moneyball and Miracle theories, business could create winning teams using employees who are overlooked or sidelined by traditional hiring methods. Perhaps an older worker is ideal because she doesn't want your job. She just wants to work. Worried she will leave for something better? She won't. She's beyond the point of climbing the ladder. Or how about the guy who's a little off beat. Perhaps his quirkiness is exactly what your team needs. Perhaps that oddity allows him to throw a strike every time.
There are many lessons here. Wow - I thought I was merely watching two good movies.