Enlightened Conflict

How do you solve a problem when one half absolutely hates the other half?

February 10th, 2017

Polar Opposites conflict

 

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I want people to think about our politics here in America, because I’m telling you guys that I don’t know of a single nation in this history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in the country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country.

This is the most important country in the world, and people in this body cannot function if people are offending one another.

Marco Rubio

 

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Well.

 

Polarization can create some pretty foul conduct.

 

Polarization can bring out the worst in people.

 

Polarization can create stillness within turmoil when movement within teamwork is needed <and desired>.

And.

 

Polarization within leadership is a virus that infects everyone in the organization … not just in leadership.

marco rubio speech on respectful conflict

I was reminded of this as I watched a completely underreported and under the radar speech Marco Rubio gave on the senate floor after <I believe> Elizabeth Warren had been asked to stop speaking.

Warren gained all the headlines where Rubio actually had the words we should have all been listening to. It is maybe 8 minutes long and worth every second.

 

 

Please note that I believe this message is more important than just one directed toward the Senate … it is a message which all Americans should take note of.

We are fortunate to have the privilege of freedom of speech & thought and we should embrace that freedom as one to permit healthy discussion, debate and disagreements … all of which should enable healthy, positive decisions.

 

Freedom is a tricky thing. In the United States of America we have the unique opportunity to “criticize a president without retribution.” <as past President Obama said to a group of military people at MacDill Air Force base>.

 

But our freedoms are being challenge by Trump and his attitudes & behaviors in ways we haven’t really seen in a very very long time.

 

The Trump Affect ripples way beyond simple executive orders and specific friends unfluencers ripples2actions that will have an impact on the people of the country. The more dangerous ripple effect is one of attitudes & behaviors.

Within this dangerous Trump affect ripple,  the freedom to freely criticize is a little less secure … and the way we criticize, debate & discuss in the Trump era appears to be one of not listening, not respecting and not believing that there could possibly be a way to do something differently than the way “I believe.”

 

Trump and his merry little band of morally corrupt liars suggest that there is no middle ground for “ladies & gentlemen to disagree with ladies & gentlemen” <note: this is a rip off of the Ritz Carlton motto>.

 

The Trump Affect has trickled down into his direct organization … the congress.

 

And within that ripple Republicans either embrace the bully opportunity or simply privately watch in horror as leadership decorum and leadership example <which, by the way, IS important as impressionable children and adult seeking cues on how to be leaders watch closely>.

And within that ripple Democrats screech & gnash their teeth in impotent frustration over not only having no power to shift the tides of change but also because, in their heart of hearts, they know this is not the way business should be conducted.

 

Balance has disappeared.

compromise balancing actWhile people can bitch & moan that decorum, in the past, has only encouraged stagnancy & lack of action they should not confuse with what business is conducted and how business is conducted.

Just as I am more accepting of my high school football coach if we have a losing season but the players play with respect & dignity and go to class and show signs of growing up with a healthy personal responsibility … I am less accepting of the coach who permits poor behavior & lack of respectful competition even if they win more.

You can have all the good in this case. But balance has been lost.

 

In fact.

 

We should face the fact that balance deserted us the day Trump stepped onto his golden Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy.

 

And that is why Rubio’s speech is so important. Without actually saying it he suggests that we shouldn’t let Trump drag us down into some dysfunctional squabbling amorphous blob of indignant jerks.

 

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do.

Both are nonsense.

You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

 

———-

Rick Warren

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I like conflict and I think conflict is healthy.

creative spark light bulb

It is a basic Life truth that conflict is the positive friction that often creates innovations and new thinking and new ideas.

But, as with most things in life, there are degrees of conflict.

 

The kind of conflict we need now, more than ever, is the productive type.

 

We need to better embrace the valuable contradictions in life.

Things like:

 

Smart and funny.

Silent but says a lot.

Liberal conservative.

Cynical optimist.

 

Oh.

 

And enlightened and conflict of course.

 

We need to better embrace the fact that contradictions are powerful.

They create a chemistry ending in positive friction <when done right> and the fire for innovative thinking and thoughts.

 

In general I believe contradiction not only make life & people interesting but they also forge the kind of decisions that become the iron construct for a solid culture, civilization and country.

 

We need to embrace that conflict is part of life and not treat it as only a negative thing.

 

void embrace the unknownHumans are neither passive nor stagnant. We move. We do. We think.

 

Combine that fact with individuals are unique <although they may group together> and inevitably there is some conflict. It can simply be healthy competition or it can be staggeringly evil intended activity <i.e. there will be conflict because your point of view and thoughts shouldn’t exist and I am going to extinguish them>.

 

We need to embrace the fact that conflict can be “managed”.

Maybe call it competitive camaraderie. I call it enlightened conflict. I believe if people know more about stuff <I don’t really believe it needs a technical term> then conflict will be conducted with knowledge.

 

I would suggest that ignorance, and being close minded, guides conflict toward evil interactions … while knowledge guides conflict to responsible interactions.

 

Lastly.

 

We need to embrace that enlightened conflict is really some version of pluralism.

A pluralism in that it encourages, and embraces, freedom to learn and freedom to think different thoughts.

 

In the end I imagine what I really care about are people’s actions. They can remain mute as far as I am concerned as long as their actions respect others opinions and others lives and meets global responsibilities.

 

Look.

 

enlightened conflict ideasIt is silly to think that conflict doesn’t exist as part of our natural behavior <I apologize to all the “why can’t we all get along” groups>.

 

It is silly to think that friction between beliefs and causes is not the spark for something better.

 

It is silly to think conflict and friction is not good.

Good conflict leads to positive friction and ideation and evolution of ideas.

 

But it needs to be conducted with respect. Respectful disagreements & debate lead to two things:

 

  • Positive friction.

 

  • Enlightened conflict.

 

 

The first is based on curiosity plus friction equals better ideas and thinking.

The second is lack of ignorance plus conflict equals respectful competition.

 

We here in the United States have an incredible privilege … a freedom to say what we want and disagree and criticize whomever we want. We shouldn’t abuse that privilege by not understanding that it creates good conflict which enlightened conflict thinkenables ‘gooder’ ideas.

 

Marco Rubio did something in his speech which I endorse wholeheartedly … he tried to make an impact on his own little corner of the world … encouraging positive friction for enlightened conflict.

 

 

Marco Rubio had a stellar enlightened conflict moment … and more people should see it and listen.

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“Enlighten the people, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.”

Thomas Jefferson

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budget shopping and shoppers

December 22nd, 2016

 want need value

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“The odds of going to the store for a loaf of bread and coming out with only a loaf of bread are three billion to one.”

 

Erma Bombeck

 

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“I knew there was evil in the world.

Death and taxes were all necessary evils.

So was shopping.”

 

Lisa Shearin

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“Explain the value and justify the cost – People don’t mind paying; they just don’t like to overpay.”

 

Chris Murray

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So.

 

This is about budget shopping. Not lowest prices … but budget shopping … as in ‘watching how much you spend when you shop’ type shopping.

 

......... prices & budgets .......

……… prices & budgets …….

Budget shopping – dollar stores, deal shopping, excessive coupon cutting – hit its stride during the recession. While it always played a role in everyday shopping it went main stream during that time … well … because people were forced to change their budget shopping behavior.

 

And back during the worst of the worst periods of the recession there was not only real business to be had in the discount & budget retail world … but gobs of people started offering futuristic pondering with regard to what it would mean long term to the world of shopping after the recession.

 

Shit.

Even I wrote about it.

 

At the time I disagreed with many of the pundits who claimed “the shopping world will never be the same and that the forced budgeting behavior by people will change how people shop in terms of buying cheaper & less expensive <two different things> moving forward.”

 

And I was partially right and partially wrong.

 

As is I stated back in 2010 when discussing the have and the have nots that there was a huge swath of America who were not really affected. Let’s say maybe 50%. Yeah. I just typed 50%. While we talk about all the wealth going to the top 1% <which is true> the majority of the country faced little true impact from the recession. Most of the impact on them was worry … not real financial stress.

And then there were the 45% ‘have nots.’ They got screwed. And they are still getting screwed.

 

But, in general, unless you got financially screwed … and stayed financially screwed … i believed most people would get out of the ‘buy cheaper mode’ as quickly as tit was financially viable to do so <as in … return to their past behavior>. Suffice it to say … there were a bunch of psychological reasons I stated as rationale which I will not bore you with today.

 

This changed the way many households shopped for shit … in today’s world the “buzzword” of the day is shopper behavior. 

 

With that in mind let me discuss “aspects of consumer behavior” for a minute.

And by ‘aspects’ I simply mean the differences between consumer attitudes … and actual shopper behavior.

 

What I mean by this is that managing what a person thinks <that’s the attitude if-do-stimulus-responseside of the equation> and what a person actually does in store <this is the shopping, behavior, side of the equation> can be significantly different. In fact … it usually IS significantly different.

 

In recognizing this, if you care about behavior management, you actually get one step closer to understanding how to create shopper satisfaction <and loyalty … the holy grail> if you are actually selling shit.

 

To be clear … if there is misalignment between the thinking <perceptions & attitudes> and the actual doing/shopping outcome, ultimately, there is going to be shopper friction.

For example … if I perceive I am getting a great bargain by going to some store and then consistently find out it wasn’t a great deal … that creates some mental friction.

 

By the way … shopper friction is not good.

 

That said I will use budget grocery shoppers, and some research, as a case in point with regard to shopper friction <or frustration> almost every single shopping-cart-iconsbudget shopper encounters. .

 

The obvious beginning point: the budget grocery shopper attitudes are focused on value and maximizing their budget <and maximizing their shop visit/experience>.

 

But.

 

In reality … as shoppers … their behavior shows they actually don’t save money in store.

 

Uh oh.

 

Misalignment.

 

Friction.

 

It starts innocently.

 

Attitudinally, the fact is that budget shoppers try really hard to save money. In fact, they often go to some fairly absurd lengths as they try harder than ever.

 

Attitudinally, they emotionally care about shopping more than ever <so there is a functional and emotional aspect to the consumer before they even enter the store to shop>.

 

But the unfortunate truth about their trying?

 

Research, facts , show they actually don’t save money and in many cases are doing worse shopping than f they didn’t try so hard <note: there are functional and emotional repercussions to this also>.

 

I say this because grocery stores need to pay attention and understand the budget shopper situation <and frustration>.

 

First … because there are a lot of budget shoppers out there.

 

Second … because many budget shoppers get frustrated when they don’t save money <and wanted to>.frustrated image

 

And these frustrated shoppers translate into a ‘less money spent’ shop event … as well as an underlying dissatisfaction with the store.

All this despite the fact the store may have done everything right – clean store, wide aisles, incredibly low prices, etc.

 

Now.

 

Let’s be careful when we discuss budget shoppers.

 

Not all budget shoppers are truly low income, albeit, it is a fact is that about one in seven American households’ lives in poverty.

 

Another one in six can afford only basic necessities, such as housing, food, and health care.

 

And almost 6 in 10 say they have had to make significant life changes because of the recession <although ‘significant’ is a broad term>.

 

This all becomes even more important when we discuss the psychological aspects of this attitude/behavior scenario because this means for many people we are talking living ‘basics’ now. And when we do that … well … we are moving into what Maslow calls “basic biological & psychological needs.”

And that Maslow psychological profile is possibly even more important a distinction than the true functional “spending within budget” aspect because any shopping frustration is exacerbated by the emotional feeling it is affecting the person’s basic biological needs.

 

<note: that is bad for a store when that happens>

 

Regardless.

 

These economics facts suggest that, at minimum, nearly one in three U.S. households pretty much carefully plan its budgets and spend accordingly.

 

i dont care stuck inHere is the next problem.

 

Budget allocation and spending behavior models often implicitly assume that shoppers with budgets are knowledgeable about the total price of their shopping baskets as they shop. However, because in store shopping behavior actually reflects estimating of the prices of their shopping baskets it mitigates the relationship between budget allocation and actual in-store spending.

 

Uhm.

 

What I just said, in plain English, is that most of us suck at estimating the total cost as we place individual items in our basket by the time we check out we are over budget <and no one puts shit back once in a checkout>.

 

So let me try how to explain how the average shopper estimates their total basket price because inaccurate estimating has implications on:

 

  • Real consumer welfare: the shopper is maximizing neither time nor budget <suggesting the consumer is not meeting basic Maslow hierarchy need>.

 

 

  • Consumer perceptions: the consumer perception afterwards is twofold:

 

(1) somehow I wasn’t smart enough to maximize my budget <or> I wasn’t smart enough to implement the budget plan I had in place <therefore attacking self esteem/self actualization>, and

 

(2) the store made me look & feel stupid <consumer & shopper dissatisfaction>

 

 

  • Retail performance: the store didn’t maximize the transaction opportunity

 

A study was conducted by Georgia Institute of Technology to uncover understanding how shoppers on predetermined budgets might estimate the total price of their shopping baskets and whether, when, and how they keep track of in-store spending. The study had three objectives:

 

–              to determine whether and when budget shoppers keep track of how much they spend while shopping

 

–              to understand how they estimate the total price of their shopping baskets

 

–              to examine the implications of estimation biases for consumer welfare and retail performance.

 

Methodology:

The research was conducted in the context of grocery shopping, for which people shop multiple times per month and often spend 15%–20% of their income on ten or more items per trip.

 

The research, a field study and two laboratory studies, concluded four key generalizations about budget shoppers in grocery stores:occams razor question

 

  1. They predominantly use mental computation strategies to track their in-store spending

 

  1. They adapt their mental computation strategy to the dominant range of price endings of items in their shopping baskets

 

 

  1. Those who try to calculate the exact total price of their basket are less accurate than those who estimate the approximate price

 

  1. Motivated shoppers are less accurate than less motivated shoppers <because they tend to calculate instead of estimate the total basket price>.

 

The key fact grocery retailers need to understand is that budget shoppers are failing at what they are setting out to do.

 

Yeah.

 

Let me say that again.

 

Most shoppers setting out with a motivated intent and attitude to save money and shop on a budget … do not do so. They are failing at what they are setting out to do.

 

This failure creates a domino effect of dissatisfaction <personal as well as some blame on the retailer>.

 

The next conclusion from the research to note is that shoppers who decisions eisenhower more knowledge less consequences teaffectsoverestimate the total basket price most likely spend less than they budgeted for––that is, they do not maximize their own utility under the budget constraint.

 

Furthermore, they might reallocate the “saved” money to a different <mental> account, which could entail a financial loss for the retailer.

 

Next.

 

The study noted that the shoppers who underestimate estimated calculations, i.e., those who underestimate the total basket price, are more likely to spend more than their grocery budget.

 

This means they unintentionally reallocate more money to the “grocery budget account.” This reallocation in turn may trigger a chain of budget and spending decisions that could cause shoppers significant financial distress.

 

Importantly is that a second field study demonstrated that shoppers who underestimate the total price of their basket are more likely to overspend, leading to negative store satisfaction.

 

Where to go from here?
The easiest thought for Grocery Retailers is to begin educating shoppers about computational estimation strategies which may enable them to become more informed shoppers. In other words … turn wild guesses into more educated ones.

 

More difficult, but the path with the highest ultimate return, is to not just educate but actually facilitate an estimation strategy in store almost to the point of “calculation” rather than “estimation.”

 

There are some clear benefits of exploring an answer to all these shopper issues:

 

Consumer Welfare: Real consumer welfare should improve, because shoppers can maximize their utility given their budget while minimizing the likelihood of spending more than they can afford.  This is true functional value to a shopper.

 

Consumer Perception: This is where functional and psychological meet on several levels <and Maslow hierarchy plays a role in what is important>:

 

  1. A budget consumer attitudinally has had his or her behavior match expectations. Attitude and actual behavior is aligned.

 

  1. With alignment the shopper feels smarter translating into a higher self esteem <because they have “self actualized” a perception>

 

 

  1. Consumer self actualization is typically shared with the shopping environment, i.e., I find higher value in the experience because they were able to deliver upon what I desired attitudinally.

shopping-red-cart

In the end.

 

If you work on a solution … if you align the shopping perceptions to match the shopping reality there is a heightened sense of satisfaction.

 

This would suggest that if someone could actually do it and someone wanted to do it … an every second lowest price store could be quite successful. Yeah. A store with every second lowest prices <which is just a funny way to say lowest price store>.

 

And, no, WalMart is not that.

 

Why the idea I just shared and not everyday low price? Well. if you think about it, it seems crazy that stores have every day low price claims.

 

Does that mean you have to worry that every day prices change?

 

Or does it mean that on average during the day if you are really lucky you can find the lowest prices?

And, frankly, you don’t shop every day.

 

Someone shops in the minutes you have in your hectic day.

So if someone could offer lowest prices every minute you decide to come into a store … well … it becomes the simplest way to save money on the stuff you like and buy every week. It’s the smartest way to shop.

 

Anyway.

psychology of risk shopping stuff

Shopper behavior analysis is not anything new. We looked at it in the 80’s when I was at JWT.

We just called it ‘the consumer buying system’ and analyzed all aspects of perceptions, attitudes and shopping behavior. I have even seen a JWT in-house advertisement from the 1930’s that basically outlined managing consumer attitudes and matching them with in store shopping behavior. I say all of that not to suggest studying shopping behavior isn’t important.  In fact I say it to suggest it is.  People have been studying it for years and shouldn’t ignore it if they are in the marketing business.

 

And it is maybe even more important these days as stores think about how to satisfy the budget shopper as well as the budget shopper inside almost every shopper that walks through their door.

 

The retail business is multi faceted.  It is about understanding what people think and what motivates them outside of the store as well as what they think and motivates them once they are inside the store.

 

Here is what I know about managing a shopper experience and budget shopping. Ignore the ‘attitude to outcome’ alignment at your own peril.

elitism versus experience

December 20th, 2016

 intellectual-intelligence-emotions-feelings-facts

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“Success is a lousy teacher.

It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

 

Bill Gates

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“We’re all working together; that’s the secret.”

 

Sam Walton

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Original commenter:

It isn’t scientists’ role to package facts and theory for the general public, let alone the most willfully ignorant.

 

 

Response commenter:

Surely scientists have some responsibility to make their findings understandable to the public?

Otherwise how do their findings get incorporated into policy?

 

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So.

 

With so much discussion going on about “the working class” it may become easy this-is-the-part-you-find-out-who-you-are-contrarianto ignore the implicit backlash against ‘intellectualism’ or ‘the out-of-touch elite.’

 

I do not believe there is an anti-intellectualism crisis.

 

I do not believe we have reached an era where any influencers who are smart, or intellectual, are dismissed as the reigning voices of truth & expertise.

 

But.

I do know that elites, or so-called elites, are despised and the opinions of experts are disregarded in favor of emotions or gut feelings, i.e., feelings are as important, if not more important, than facts.

 

And I do know that Michael Gove said “people have had enough of experts.”

 

Whew.

Not only is that a bullshit quote … it is a scary thought.

 

I could walk into a crowded blue collar bar and after some discussion I could be construed as ‘thinker not doer’ … despite the fact I have over 30 years of doing practical experience.

And therein lies the issue.

 

Depending on how you articulate your experience you can sound intellectually elitist <too smart for your own good> or you can sound pragmatically hard working. And within those two bookends is a fairly wide spectrum.

 

There has become a blurring of … well … everything actually … but in this case … true experience & expertise and ‘elitism.’

 

This is creating a horrible thing in society and our culture. If you have gobs of experience you are labeled as out of touch with the everyday schmuck.

 

If you are an everyday schmuck you are immediately labeled as anti-intellectual and, far too often, less educated.

 

This is a horrible situation for everyone <because no one wins>.

 

Simplistically … education and experience are two different things. I can certainly intellectual-elite-asimov-false-notion-ignorance but it shouldn’t diminish experience wisdom <and vice versa>.

 

And that is where the whole communication and communicating aspect comes into play.

For if neither side can clearly communicate their value then … well … everyone assumes the worst.

 

It would be far too easy for me to suggest that if someone has the experience, and the wisdom that comes with it, they should be able to articulate it and communicate it in a way that anyone would not feel condescended to or diminished or simply out-of-touch with either hard working or ‘thinker’.

 

But experience doesn’t necessarily translate into effective communication.

 

And it gets even more challenging when both sides have a pair of perception filtered glasses on as they view the opposite they are seeking to communicate with.

 

My prime example is easy … climate change.

 

The simple fact is that climate activists cannot sell their story effectively – they fall back on … well … facts and numbers. This is deemed as ‘arrogance’ because they get frustrated you don’t see the truth in the numbers and you are deemed ‘ignorant’ as you get frustrated because you aren’t a scientist and don’t want to extrapolate numbers … you just want a simple truthful story.

 

Even non-science people  recognize that cherry-picked statistics and trends & projections are not the same as long-term accurate predictions and effects. But if the case is so strong it must be possible to bring it forth in a compelling way combined with compelling measures to address it.

 

That said.

 

intellectual-behave-as-intelligenceThe most egregious act with regard to elitism versus experience actually takes place when people smart enough to know … undermine other people smart enough to know … within the leadership we seek to take our cues from <or let’s label them what the everyday schmuck would call ‘the ruling intellectual elite’>.

 

They sacrifice acceptance of the value of their ‘competitor’ for undermining the value. And in doing so they undermine everyone’s value. Some would suggest this is ‘not seeing the forest for the trees.’

 

I would suggest this is actually a doom loop. If every day people have no one to trust with regard to their experience they become anxious. And, then, in this state of anxiety, many of those same people no longer trust the experts <let alone anyone attempting to lead by thought leadership>.

 

If you cannot trust experience it all falls apart. Because then gaining experience just doesn’t matter <or specific experience doesn’t matter>.

 

In addition … it seems to foster an environment in which individual thinking is discouraged, the value of scientific/researched fact is diminished and, contrary to belief, the power shifts to some authority figure who leads through opinion rather than fact <and people follow off of ‘feelings’ rather than truth>.

 

That said … all things being equal, it means this issue comes down to its most basic level <which actually creates a real divide in ‘us versus them’>.

 

 

Here is where the biggest gap in skills & experience exists.

 

Survival skills.

 

test think smarterSurvival in corporate America is significantly different than survival in … well … survival.

 

If all of urban/suburban America lost their microwaves and fast food restaurants … well … they would be screwed.

 

Sure.

Most people know how to light a fire <with a match>, wash underwear and make soup but that basic skill set is not even close to the survival skills of the majority of the world let alone rural America.

 

Therefore … experience is measured in two different ways … basic survival versus ‘elitist’ survival. And neither side values the other’s skills equally … or maybe worse … they devalue the other’s skill set.

 

It’s a dangerous state of affairs.

 

 

We are shortchanging our ability to shape events by having each side believe they are the only ones capable of shaping the events.

 

 

We are shortchanging the people who are much more confident in the assessments of what to do and when to do it.

 

 

We are shortchanging the people who understand that in any situation and in any choice there are winners and losers and just because you may have lost smart and stupid peopledoesn’t make you a loser.

 

And, of course, we shortchange the people who don’t have the experience to lead by undervaluing the experience that they do have … and what they have to offer in terms of thinking & ideas.

 

We don’t know what we don’t know.

 

And in those words of wisdom resides our biggest challenge with regard to this crisis of elitism versus experience … we need to figure out how to better articulate expertism and experience … because if we do not … the inexperienced will seek to take on the responsibilities of the experienced … and we will be doomed to fail.

 

 

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“The pen may indeed be mightier than the sword, but the wordsmith would do well to welcome the blacksmith back into the fold, so that artisan craftsmanship the world over may fend off the ravages of industrialised homogeneity and bland monoculture.”

 

Alex Morritt

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the death of the mall and a divided america

November 28th, 2016

  just-came-from-the-mall

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The impression left after watching the motions of birds is that of extreme mobility – a life of perpetual impulse checked only by fear.

 

—-

Richard Jefferies

 

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“My fundamental philosophy is that you owe it to society to transfer to them any knowledge you have that might be useful.”

 

—-

Leroy Hood

 

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Well.

 

Because USA just faced is heinous tradition called ‘black Friday’ <a made up sales day to encourage people to buy things they most likely don’t need under the guise of ‘early start for Christmas shopping’ — this is a made up day beliefs divide people doubt unitescreated by retail sellers solely to sell more shit early> I started thinking about how the ‘death of malls’ was a reflection of the American rural/urban divide.

 

Ok.

 

Maybe the death of malls is a metaphor.

 

Regardless.

 

A long time ago I wrote about the convenience economy. Malls were most likely the first step into the larger convenience economy <it had actually existed with the general store – one stop for everything – but malls took it to a new level>. Under the guise of ‘saving time’ convenience and consumption are inextricably linked.

This meant that as malls crept out of suburbia and into rural America it warped the existing attitudes & behaviors affecting the soul of what made rural America <and I could argue what actually made America> what it was – in terms of time, convenience, consumption and , unfortunately, economy.

 

Joan Didion wrote in 1979: “malls became cities in which no one lives but everyone consumes.”

 

Now?

 

Malls are almost like ancient ruins … and yet the population still lives in the ruins.

That is what happens when no one consumes but they still have to live.mall-dead-rising

 

Sprawling malls were a natural product of the post world war 2 as Americans with cars and money spread to the suburbs.

They were thrown up at a furious pace as shoppers fled cities, peaking at a few hundred per year at one point in the 1980s <Paco Underhill author of Call of the Mall: The Geography of Shopping>.

 

From there they naturally expanded their reach farther into rural America spreading their ‘urban wares’ to a population who could only have seen those things on tv up until that point.

 

This all came at a cost.

 

Yeah.

 

Rural America paid a price for large retail … the mom and pop small business and down town general stores lost the battle … and a part of the soul & heart of rural America was also lost to malls and large retail. Yeah. In the short term it appeared like jobs were created, tax revenue increased and the local economy improved.

 

And, yet, in gaining short term economic reasons … culture was lost, some values were lost and … well … local ideas were lost.

 

This has left us in a farther divided America as malls crashed and burned not only leaving a mall overstock in their wake but as they left <because economics writing-on-the-walls-of-the-mallsuggested they should step back from rural America> they left a ‘less grounded’ landscape behind.

 

Malls tore out the soul of middle America and never replaced it with anything worthwhile while there … and never placed anything behind when it left.

 

I have driven across the United States several times. I have seen small businesses in places I could never imagine and seen dying, or dead, shopping malls dotting the landscape most often in locations where there are severe socioeconomic shifts. I don’t know the exact numbers but the last ones I saw suggested that closings of existing malls will number somewhere between 15 to 50%.

 

It is fairly easy for me to suggest that while artificially bloating the financial economy when there  … their actual success was dependent upon the slicing, dicing and stripping away what was built up over generations.

I would suggest, on a side, note, we have been doing this to rural America for years <not just with malls>.

 

And I don’t have to suggest because it is fact … that the departure of malls from rural areas has simply exposed the obscenity of their existence. The holes they leave behind  showcase the years of neglect, exploitation, abuse, poor local government decisions, and short-sighted policy which transformed a thriving rural landscape into a hollowed out long list of small towns and cities.

 

In many of these areas their existence had masked a steady decline <which they had actually contributed to> and their departure put a spotlight on a way of Life shutting down <albeit leaving a population which doesn’t want to shut down yet>.

 

I would also say, sadly I may add, that spotlight forced a local population to face a pervasive sense of fear and loss.

terror lose meaningful

Having done it … I can say that just driving through town after town of dead malls, closed factories, shuttered stores, abandoned mines, empty schools, roads in need of repair and empty homes … and you can feel their loss.

 

If you want to get a sense of divided America explore the decline of malls.

 

Simplistically, Malls are a reflection of eating our own. Just as online shopping is making brick & mortar increasingly irrelevant the malls made the once thriving local business communities less relevant.

 

But their cost is even deeper than that.

 

The economy has fundamentally shifted because technology has decreased the costs of entry and performance by businesses. This means business models are quickly shifting because of changes coming faster than ever before.

 

For example.

 

Would you invest in a factory that made anything but it took 3 years to build the factory? …..I’m guessing no, because how would you know the thing would still be in demand?

 

Or that your method of manufacturing would still be the most cost effective way?

Or that your raw materials would be affordable to make the product at a certain price?

Or that your labor costs would allow you to hit certain price points?

 

 

What this means is that even a rural economy seeking to refind it’s ‘American mojo’ is faced with an uncertain business landscape which makes it more difficult for a rural community to rebuild a successful local economy based on what they knew, and know, is successful.

american hands

And, yeah, this is more than about money.

 

Because, yeah, rebuilding a thriving rural economy is not just about money & profits & jobs. It is also about heart & soul & the intangibles.

 

We urban/suburban folk forget that.

 

Let me be unequivocally clear <and I hope some politician reads this> … rural American prosperity is not just found in the wallet but in the soul.

 

In other words … I can place a general store in a small community and the owner doesn’t dream of wealth beyond anything he/she can dream of but rather comfortable earnings and a gathering place so that the community thrives.

 

Our ‘urban objectives’ are often different than ‘rural objective.’

 

And maybe that is part of my point on the divide in America.

 

Equality comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

 

An urban idea, malls, stripped parts of America of its soul. And what that meant is while rural America could always stand tall with unequal, as in better, values & soul versus the high falutin’ intellectual urban/suburban folk … malls stripped them of the main portion of what permitted them to remain ‘equal’ even though incomes may not have been equal.

 

Look.

 

I disagree with some experts who suggest that retail often mirrors the natural life cycle of the surrounding community and it is about demographics.

I believe retail is an organism in and of itself driven by profit not by humanism.

 

And I believe retail, at its heart, is driven by an urban ‘heartbeat’ which is constantly trying to reapply it to rural America <it is fairly rare to have a rural idea expand to dominate urban>.

 

I say that because we don’t talk about it often but ‘progress’, which is most often associated with a healthy economic metabolism, is mostly visible in urban/suburban America and not rural America.

 

Which is … well … kind of nuts.

 

Why? Because I could easily argue that, in a stark judgement, that America’s achievements were built upon rural America … and, yet, the rising levels of material well-being, education and health actually reside in urban/suburban America.

 

Add in some fairly shocking statistics on life expectancy and social mobility and the crumbling mall retail structure in Middle America becomes symbolic for many of their woes.

 

We all know that while the economy may not be robust that wealth is certainly being generated, and often displayed in some gaudy ostentatious ways <see Trump tower as an example> and amazing technological innovations have become common in households and certainly prosperity exists, though almost exclusively in a sliver of America, all of which suggests that the economic infrastructure is visibly changing even while it is semi-working.

 

And by ‘semi-working’ I go back to malls as an example … it is mostly a system of cannibalism. It is a system and society that is devouring its own.

Urban America has been picking prosperity from the slowly decaying carcass of rural America. This carcass is symbolic of the hollowing out of rural America.

 

For some long time now, the economy has been driven by investment banks, hedge funds, private equity firms, real estate developers, insurance goliaths and a whole range of companies and industries that make nothing but rather make money off of money.

 

In the end.

 

I purposefully used ‘stripping’ and ‘cannibalism’ and ‘eating our own’ because that is what we have done to a significant portion of America … and, more significantly, a portion of America who believes they created America AND believes if anyone would ask them … they could help rebuild America.

 

I use malls, and their death, as an example of what we ‘innovators of progress’ have done. And while many of us may have acted with real best intentions … it america one heartbeatwas a failure. And, worse, we have failed a significant portion of America.

 

We don’t owe portions of America because we have taken away their malls … we owe them the assistance to let them rebuild the America they know should be built.

 

And am I suggesting going ‘back’? Only partially.

The general stores will most likely never return. The mines will never reopen. Some schools are shuttered forever. But to rebuild a community you give them their soul back first & foremost. Anything built with soul will make America great and will last for generations.

Enlightened Conflict