Innovate or Die

Companies can deteriorate and die if they don’t innovate. But so can governments, as did the Roman, Greek, French and British empires.

Likewise, large sections of a city can die if its leaders do not apply the process of creativity and innovation to their problems. Jane Jacobs pointed this out in her famous book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”

The riots that occurred in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood in August require that our political and business leaders apply the tools of creativity and innovation to the problems of our inner city.

All creativity begins with identifying the brutal facts and the problem to be solved.

In Milwaukee, the best estimates available suggest 59 percent of the young black male population is unemployed. To make matters worse, Milwaukee’s black males have the lowest educational attainment in the U.S. The inner city ZIP code 53206 has the highest rate of incarceration in the U.S. The Wall Street Journal pointed out we are creating an entire class of unemployed males, which is not healthy for them or our economy.

Step two in the process of creativity is to use the tools of innovation to do divergent thinking and uncover new approaches to solving the problem. Here are some creative suggestions this community could use:

Try a crowdfunding campaign to solicit the best ideas in this community for solving the problem. Billions are being raised through Kickstarter globally and that same kind of creative horsepower can be put to solving Milwaukee’s problems.

The number one cause of poverty is the lack of a job. We are fortunate that we have Milwaukee Area Technical College, which is uniquely positioned to provide education and training to area residents that also addresses the needs of local business and industry. It recently launched the MATC Promise, which will pay the tuition and fees for eligible direct-from-high school graduates. The MATC Promise opens the door to a college education for low-income students who are in the greatest need and starts them on a pathway to a career. MATC Promise helps develop a talent pipeline that transforms young people’s lives and answers the needs of businesses.

Young black males cannot succeed if their neighborhoods are not safe. Empower qualified young black males to act as block guards in their neighborhoods for a modest salary. They would not be carrying guns but they would be talking regularly with any suspicious characters in the neighborhood and be equipped by radio contact with the local police.

Launch a Civilian Conservation Corps-type program similar to what was done in Key West in the Great Depression when the city filed for bankruptcy.

“Eighty percent of the populace was put to work cleaning the streets, renovating hotels and sprucing up the city,” according to the book “Oh, Florida!” by Craig Pittman. It beats having young males standing around bored with nothing to do.

Use state-of-the-art technology, such as drones, to monitor behavior in high crime ZIP codes. All policing proves it’s the perception of getting caught that deters crime.

Require every MPS student to take courses in entrepreneurship so they know what it takes to start a business the day they graduate from high school. Rotate in successful minority entrepreneurs to tell their stories. The inner city needs small businesses, from coffee shops, to restaurants, to barbershops, and people don’t need a college degree to run those businesses.

Put more resources into organizations like Safe and Sound that secure safe neighborhoods by creating partnerships between the police and local residents.

Support charter schools that are successful, like the four Milwaukee College Prep schools Sadoff Investment Management founder Ron Sadoff, his wife, Micky, and their principal Rob Rauh, operate in the inner city.

Call on the Milwaukee Bucks and every other successful black leader to drive home the fact that it’s “not ‘white’ to succeed academically.” Right now that’s a huge barrier to young African-American males who really want to academically achieve. Their classmates quickly condemn them for academic success. If you don’t think this is reality, please read the book “Invisible Influence” by Jonah Berger.

At BizStarts, 60 percent of new entrepreneurs are people of color and it links them to successful mentors so they have their own “old boy network.”

Acknowledge heroes every month who are turning their lives around and feature PSAs on TV and social media of young black people telling other black people their personal success stories.

One definition of insanity is “to keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The time has come to recognize the inherent talent and capability of African-Americans to lead the charge in solving a daunting problem.

-Daniel Steininger is the president of BizStarts, a lecturer on innovation and creative problem-solving at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education and president of Steininger & Associates LLC, which helps companies drive new revenues through innovation. He once served as a teacher in the United States Peace Corps in Kenya East Africa, and is the grandson of former Milwaukee Mayor Daniel W. Hoan. He can be reached at Dan@BizStarts.com.

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Dan Steininger is the president and founder of BizStarts. He is also the president of Steininger & Associates. The firm focuses on teaching the tools of innovation to drive growth for companies in all sectors of the economy. Steininger is a former president and CEO of Catholic Financial Life and a graduate of Marquette University and Boston University's School of Law.

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