Last week we had the privilege of taking clients to balmy Detroit for three days of experiential learning. Why Detroit (in February, no less)? We’ve all seen the photos and followed the bankruptcy headlines. But there is so much more to the story.
Neither the industry nor the city is the force it once was; however, it is far from dead. Interestingly enough, Detroit’s motto (created following a devastating fire that leveled the city in 1805) is “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus” (Latin: We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes).
Detroit is a city rich in legacy and heritage, responsible for birthing giants of industry and shaping much of our American culture. As an industry town, Detroit has a core capability that few cities can rival. This city is teeming with engineering and manufacturing expertise that until now, has been almost singularly focused in purpose. Detroit is a city with a core identity. Today, the Motor City is valiantly wrestling with leveraging that core identity and forging it into a more relevant one (with capabilities to mirror) for a new, global, tech-centric marketplace interested in sustainability and impact.
For three days, we bore witness to better things rising in the city as we explored throngs of innovative business models transforming the city. Yes, throngs. While you weren’t looking, Detroit became a hotbed for tech startups. Why you ask? One answer is low barriers to entry. Talent, space, and capital are available to entrepreneurs who have been priced out of Silicon Valley. As large, established organizations wrestle with how to make innovation part of their DNA, the question should be asked, “what are the barriers to entry internally?” Is the cost of taking risks too high? Is the price for challenging the status quo to steep? Is the payoff for not doing business as usual to low?
Perhaps the Motor City can be the perfect learning analogue for organizations with strong legacy struggling to engage a workforce to innovate for a better future.