Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Misakes on the Way to Success

"[S]ome of the best ideas of those of us working in community economic development never should get beyond the early planning stages. We should continue to dream..."

Bob Brehm, "Salvaging Success from Failure," Shelterforce, Summer 2008

This is a shortened, spruced up version of one of the papers we collected for the first round of the CED and Mistakes project. It's a wonderful story about a neighborhood public market project in Chicago, El Mercado, that failed to live up to its original intent while producing lots of community benefits before and after restructuring. It's a good example of failure, learning, and adaptation.

Brehm, who we hope will blog with us on occasion, is painfully honest about his role in this project as ED of the neighborhood CDC. Sometimes innovative projects come into fruition and stay alive because of our own passion and hard work. He admits that it probably took his departure to create the space for a project reassessment. This is one of the dilemmas of being a successful nonprofit leader, or social entreprenuer.

I recount in Nonprofit Leadership how I became a specialist in doing feasibility studies that showed that attractive, fashionable development ideas wouldn't work. I think the failure of a nonprofit construction company early in my CDC career led me to be overly skeptical about interesting but improbable projects.

This suggests another CED dilemma: How do you stay open to and stick with new ideas while keeping a hardnosed, skeptical view of what can actually be accomplished? What's the right balance?

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