THE BLOG
03/01/2013 06:15 pm ET Updated May 01, 2013

If We Don't Push, Nothing Happens

I toss out this phrase to my team at Dandelion whenever I get the inkling that folks are frustrated. I was inspired by a similar declaration I heard while watching a documentary about renowned Chinese artist and revolutionary Ai Wei Wei, called Never Sorry. Wei's sentiment reflects the way he works -- towards ruffling feathers and the status quo in order to achieve a simplified and well-conceived quality of life. When I remind my team that if we don't push, nothing happens, it gives us the feeling that we can inflict real and direct change on our surroundings by making ourselves heard and taking a real stand -- in essence, by pushing forward, no matter the obstacles.

My friends, these people with whom I work and who believe vehemently that we can make more than a superficial difference in our city, they sometimes show the signs of being wound up and walking into walls. When I sense this, my colleagues see this quip hit their inbox: a body-less email and a subject line that reads, "If we don't push, nothing happens." It has become my default response for when they feel thwarted -- which often happens when potential partners, many with a tendency towards continual consensus building, linger and endlessly debate solutions, which unintentionally neuters the impact they hope to achieve.

I have become keenly aware of the deflating effects stemming from this kind of ineffectual positioning. The "blame-mapping" that's too often done in advance of tackling a problem is a debilitating mentality and serves to hinder everyone's efforts towards making a difference in Detroit, the city we call home. And so we look for leaders -- high-capacity individuals at the top, middle or bottom of hierarchies that exist within our necessary and well-intentioned community anchors -- because somebody must lead and we believe those leaders inevitably will be found so long as there are clear paths for them to march on and useful tools for them to readily access.

At Dandelion, much of our value proposition resides in our ability to consistently solve problems for community-centric organizations. Meanwhile, most impact-driven entities, we learn upon many initial meetings, are either in the process of establishing or restructuring their entire workflow. This reality is not conducive to forward motion, yet it's one that is seemingly very common. These organizations retain little inertia (and thus, little talent) and this leaching condition, as one might expect, has adverse effects on our civic impact ecosystem and, ultimately, on our common goal of a thriving and durable Detroit.

What's happening?

The lack of clear, refined and informed common goals is a serious and systemic issue. For example, in just the last year I have seen numerous bright, would-be leaders drifting between organizations in search of direction and finding out the pavement in front of each office is often the same shade of status quo. I hear first hand of these potential changemakers sitting through routine meetings about meetings, and rather than feeling inspired to do good work, they see their activities as time-eating obligations while they clear their email inbox and are resigned to feeling stuck, cynical and toothless.

Paul Graham wrote in 2008, "Great cities attract ambitious people." Use whatever word you want to describe them, but I love Detroit for the kind of people it attracts, the people who've stayed and for all the expats working their way back to the city now. Our future city relies on dreamers who find inspiration in the possibility of really being able to affect peoples' lives. Our community's anchor organizations need to cultivate these folks. We need leaders of all cultures and across generations to unify and wield the kind of collective hammer that, when swung together, will put a lasting dent in the universe. Detroit is the place and the time is now -- but if we don't push, nothing happens.