Taking a chance on a big new opportunity could make (or break) a town. Rural regions have limited capacity for large investment. “All or nothing” propositions in any area are huge risks for small communities — whether it’s investing in a new industry that promises to employ most of the town or competing for a big sports franchise. Only time will tell if an “all in” investment was the right decision.
Knowing and doing are two very different things. We KNOW we need to be proactive and carve our own space in the global economy and yet we are stuck behind fast moving urban centres with more resources, people, political power and money. Cities are much better positioned to take bold action and absorb the cost of bad decisions. The stakes are simply HIGHER for rural communities. Leaders with bold vision are risking more than their own careers when they bet on something big…they are risking the welfare of their communities. It’s not surprising that rural communities, in general, stick to improvement offers instead of new opportunities.
How do we compete in the innovation race, stay relevant and GROW if we are seemingly stuck, frozen, at the starting line?
The answer is to act like a successful entrepreneur.
Now…you might be thinking “aren’t entrepreneurs BIG risk takers…and isn’t that what we’ve been trying to avoid?”
John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing lists risk aversion as one of the top 7 traits of successful entrepreneurs.
Risk Averse — This one throws people, but successful entrepreneurs are not any more wired to take risks than most, but they are wired to spot opportunities and possess the confidence that something, perhaps not what was originally envisioned, can be made of the opportunity. They are often better at letting something that’s clearly a bad idea go, limiting the ultimate risk.
Rural Communities have to become…not good…not great…but prolific opportunity identifiers and then have the confidence to act on those opportunities and the courage to let bad ideas go. Entrepreneurial thinking and ambition are essential characteristics for strong rural growth.
Identifying growth areas and market opportunity starts with understanding the strategic priorities of our own community. (list adapted from RocketSpace)
Questions to Ask:
· What are the strategic priorities for our community?
· What are the expectations of our residents — are they shifting (ie. Workforce and demographic changes?)
· What strategies are other rural communities employing?
· What strategies are nearby urban centres employing?
· What possibilities are being created by new technologies and trends?
Desirability — Does our population base even want it?
Feasibility — Can we build it?
Viability — Is it financially sustainable?
How do successful entrepreneurs mitigate risk?
One way entrepreneurs mitigate risk is by testing their ideas with minimal investment before moving forward. A minimal viable product or MVP is a scaled down version of the final product and tests whether or not there is a willingness to use or buy it while generating feedback for future development.
Communities can mitigate risk by running PILOTS.
Much like an MVP, a pilot project is a small-scale test of an idea, designed to limit the impact of failure, validate the benefits, and generate support for a larger solution.
Before beginning any pilot project there must be a key understanding that success and failure are interconnected.
As long as there are lessons learned, a failure should be considered a success. Adam Winski.
The value of the local data that comes from running a pilot cannot be overstated. Learning what works AND what doesn’t in our own communities allows us to iterate and build a better solution OR completely let it go before investing further in it. We save precious time and resources that can then be redirected to something else. That’s the race we’re in.
Selecting a method and making sure that a process is in place to test and measure for success is the next crucial step in building a Pilot — followed by selecting a team with local leadership and securing resources and data support (which are vital to successfully implementing change.)
Most communities are familiar with feasibility studies, market research, and business cases. All provide insight and support decision-making, but for small communities there is no substitute for local buy-in. There is always going to be a group that says “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Pilot testing engages and demonstrates to this group that the solution is possible. It’s visible economic development that builds excitement and momentum in a community.
The reality is that without New Opportunities our rural communities are going to stagnate and many will die. Standing still is not an option for us. Small improvements are not going to save us either. Like successful entrepreneurs, successful communities take smart risks. Pilot projects are the perfect vehicle for rural communities to test, validate and make informed decisions regarding fit and viability of a new opportunity.