Radically Rural: To Meet New Challenges, Be Idea-Friendly

** This article was originally published for the Daily Yonder

Old answers won’t work in the “new normal.” Nurturing new ideas will be key.

What’s the right way to reopen local businesses in your town? How can your local governments cope with the loss of revenues? What will you do to help people who have lost their jobs?

Scroll through your inbox or the stories here on the Daily Yonder and you can’t avoid question after question affecting the future prosperity of your community and people. How can you make the best decisions with the limited information available? Of course, it’s overwhelming.

But there is one piece of good news: we don’t have to know all the answers. We just have to be open to the answers when they present themselves. And they look like new ideas.

‪Right now leaders and officials can be tempted to fall back on what has worked in the past. There’s a justifiable fear that we don’t know what’s going to happen. We do know this crisis is so different that whatever worked in the past isn’t necessarily going to work today. In fact, it probably won’t work today. Too much is different. We’re going to have to be open to some new ideas.

There is no lack of new ideas in your community right now. Businesses are receiving dozens of emails with ideas about saving their business. Nonprofit organizations are inundated with advice on ways to address pressing needs in the community while coping with a loss of funding. Governments are receiving new instructions, new programs, suggestions, and best practices. Everyone is getting plenty of ideas.

What your community lacks is a way for people — all the people — to try ideas in a small enough way. Any of these ideas might be the ones that would work best in rebuilding your community, but there’s no way to guess which ones. None of us have the experience to predict what will work now.

Rather than taking a vote, compromising, or watering down ideas until enough people can agree on them, better to run a quick and simple test to see whether it might work in your town. In fact, let’s test lots of ideas. Then you could rally behind the ones that prove themselves in testing.

What would that look like? It looks like the Idea Friendly Method. It’s for everyone, not just officials and leaders. You begin by choosing one big idea for your community. You use that big idea to gather your crowd, to find out who else is interested, excited, and willing to join in. Then you turn that crowd into a powerful network by building connections. You and your newly powerful network start testing those ideas by taking small steps.

Let’s say that your big idea is to rebuild your local community in a way that is less fragile and more resilient, or to include a greater economic opportunity for everyone. Or maybe you’re most concerned about balancing the needs of the community within the limits of your resources.

You get going by explaining that big idea to as many people as you possibly can in really simple language. You might do that through your email newsletter, through an online post, or by making a phone call to a friend. Give people a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves with as little formal structure as possible. That is Gathering Your Crowd.

Once you have at least one other person in your crowd, you start asking questions to connect. What are your ideas? Who do you know who knows more about this? Who do you know who has resources we could tap? Who else should we be talking to? That’s Building Connections.

Now that you have a crowd and you’ve built some connections, it’s time to take small steps. What ideas came up in that conversation that excited you? What could you test right away? How could you take an immediate action that would let you know whether you’re on the right track? What’s the duct tape and baling wire version you could mock up quickly?

That’s the whole Idea Friendly Method. It’s simple, but anyone can apply it to any project, in any field, in any organization or any business.

Of course, you’ll still face opposition. Some people will remain closed to new ideas even in a crisis like this. Some people will sit back and wait for you to make mistakes they can criticize. But your town matters. No place else is quite the same mix of people, place, and culture. It’s worth the effort to shape a better future for your town, and the Idea Friendly Method can help you do that.

The Idea Friendly Method will be the focus of my talk for the Radically Rural: Remote online event in September. Until then, you can learn more about the Idea Friendly Method from this 30 minute video that you can share with others in your community right away.

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In 2020, Radically Rural: Remote will feature six tracks on September 24, focusing on key sectors of importance to rural America: Main streets, entrepreneurship, community journalism, arts and culture, land and communities, and clean energy. For more information on Radically Rural, visit the organization’s website or contact them via email at info@radicallyrural.com. 

Radically Rural explores ways rural leaders are building stronger communities through innovative strategies. The column is produced by the organizers of Radically Rural, an annual summit of rural leaders that last year brought together almost 600 rural leaders from 25 states.

Becky McCray is an international speaker on rural economic matters and co-founder of SaveYour.Town. McCray also runs Small Biz Survival and is a rancher in Oklahoma.

Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship Key Partners

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