Brian Solis is an author, digital analyst and futurist. He travels the globe and sees the evidence of disruption daily—and what lies ahead. He recently shared some comments in his blog that reminded me of a story from Louisiana’s 1987 governor’s race.
Solis, writing about disruption, said, “It’s a touchy subject. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary. It’s also inevitable. The sooner you embrace disruption, the sooner you become a disruptor rather than disrupted. Disruption happens to us or because of us.”
The choice, says Solis, is ours to make.
He points out that disruption is no one’s fault. The world has changed.
“Many of us aren’t ready for what lies ahead. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be,” Solis writes. “We just need to first stop pretending disruption, on so many fronts, isn’t already happening. Instead, we have to start taking action. That begins with you and believing that you play a role in shaping your future, the future of those around you and the future at large. No matter how small the first steps, you’re at least moving away from the comfort zone that is holding you back.”
He concludes by saying, “If you’re waiting for someone to tell you what to do or to save you, you are on the wrong side of innovation.”
Reading this, I recalled a story involving former Gov. Buddy Roemer when he was running for office in 1987. He had done a TV spot where he spoke of the world getting smaller and our competition being global. Baton Rouge wasn’t competing with Bossier, but with Beijing. (He was far ahead of his time.) But when his consultant tested this commercial to a focus group in north Louisiana they didn’t like it at all. It seemed to frighten them because they felt their kids weren’t prepared and couldn’t compete in that world—so they did not want to hear about it in a TV spot.
Their position was to ignore the disruption of 1987 and hope that it would go away. It didn’t.
Fast forward 30 years and many of those “kids” are your fellow adult citizens. Now they—along with you, your kids and grandkids—are faced with even greater and faster disruption on the world stage. How will you respond? Ignore it … again?
How do you think our state has responded over the past 30 years? Denial? Fact is, 80% of our population is native and that means most were around back then, learning from the generation sitting in that focus group. Habits and views are passed down. But Solis essentially asks us: Are we going to accept it and face it and take first steps to move from our comfort zone towards a new future—or are we going to be like those folks from 1987, fearing the future, denying disruption and hoping it just goes away? We must choose wisely. Others didn’t in the past.
(Note: When Roemer, with his global view, ran for re-election in 1991, he was defeated, with Louisiana voters choosing a run-off between former Gov. Edwin Edwards and David Duke. Both later went to prison.)
ExxonMobil is a ‘forest’
In the ongoing debate over ITEP, many want to only look at the “trees” of jobs created or taxes (and what they didn’t get). I acknowledge that both have been the main metrics of this program. But ExxonMobil has long been a “forest” impacting our community. I think many believe it is difficult—and maybe impossible—to calculate the total impact that this major employer, taxpayer and corporate citizen has on our region and state. That’s because we often only examine the company’s results while disregarding the individual impact of its employees. They may be the greatest benefit we get from the ITEP program. Let’s just look at a couple examples:
• ExxonMobil is one of the best importers of talent, as well as top employers of college grads to retain talent here. One retired employee moved to Baton Rouge from Missouri with a job offer from ExxonMobil and worked 37 years. He said ExxonMobil encouraged him to volunteer and he was involved with 30 organizations over his career. He received the Golden Deeds award for his community service.
What is that worth to Baton Rouge? How many in our region benefited from the leadership and service of one ExxonMobil employee?
How many times has this example been repeated over decades, and what are those hours and deeds worth in dollars and cents? Ask the citizens and charities who benefited, instead of government having to pay the tab. Does that show up on any report for ITEP?
• A married couple, who both work at ExxonMobil and are LSU grads, chose to stay in Baton Rouge and have established an endowment at LSU’s College of Human Sciences and Education to fund scholarships for future teachers. Their generosity, matched by ExxonMobil, has grown to a $500,000 endowment and provides four major scholarships. (It is the largest at the college for scholarships.) The college even recognized them as “Philanthropists of the Year.” But that isn’t all.
They also began a program on Aquaponics at Brookstowne Middle School, which has expanded to Istrouma High. There, they are working on a commercial scale greenhouse that would provide partime jobs for students, provide 20,000 heads of leafy produce and 1,500 pounds of catfish annually. Besides teaching students STEM and entrepreneurship, the proceeds will go to “We Produce Grads” scholars, providing scholarships for Istrouma grads who complete the program and pursue STEM degrees. The couple also plans to donate personal funds to the nonprofit, “We Produce Grads,” which will be matched by ExxonMobil.
Do all those new teachers graduating from LSU on scholarship and their students figure into the “benefits” of ITEP? Will the students from Istrouma who go on to study STEM be included? These may not be newly created jobs, but does it not count for anything?
If that is not enough, he also gives his time to serve on the board of a local charter school serving children and parents.
Can you see the “forest for the trees” and the tremendous impact that the people who work at ExxonMobil have had—and still have—in our community? Can you talk to churches and synagogues, retailers and Realtors, auto dealers and charities, banks and financial planners, and restaurants and contractors about the impact on them and our community?
Or maybe talk to the ExxonMobil employees and retirees and ask how much they contribute in sales taxes or pay, and have paid, in personal property taxes each year for public schools they don’t use—and some have never used. What if they asked for a refund for their deficit? One could argue that East Baton Rouge public schools got a lot more from ExxonMobil and its many employees over the decades than the school system delivered for those parents. Want to talk about accountability and who got the better deal?
I suggest some folks should get “together” and take a walk in the forest before answering.