Sharing the Legos: It’s time to put aside personal interests, biases

We live in a special place – I think we all know that. I think we also know that to ensure a flourishing future our regional economy needs to remain strong and become more resilient. To me this means less seasonal dependency, more diversified industries, density where it belongs and more digital.

So, how do we create that better future? My answer is more working together, more shared decisions and less constituency thinking. Often, we do a good job of that. Sometimes we fall short. Sometimes we let fear of change get the better of our judgment and our need to collaborate.

Molly Graham, who was instrumental in Facebook’s hyper-scaling, says teams and organizations that successfully grow do so by adopting a mindset of “sharing their Legos.” In other words, when change is happening, when a new kid comes into the playground, rather than hiding your toys and protecting them, you share them. For community leaders and decision-makers, this means putting aside personal interests, biases and fiefdoms and working toward a better vision for the future together.

There is a rhythm and language for working better together and here is an example of what it looks like: One Columbus.

Our company, Hagerty, is growing rapidly and we needed a second location for a service center. To find the right place, we hired a search firm and told them we wanted a great business climate with a deep pool of talent. But we also wanted an attractive, thriving town and region similar to our HQ in Traverse City and our offices in Ann Arbor and Golden, Colorado, places that people are proud to call home.

Based on those criteria, the firm narrowed a list of 800 communities down to just a few, which we then visited. We ultimately decided on Dublin, Ohio, just outside of Columbus. In retrospect, the decision was easy. The Columbus region is incredibly vibrant. It hums with activity, places to go, things to see and do. Our employees will love living there, as they love living here.

What made the decision even easier was One Columbus, which is their region’s Economic Development Organization, or EDO. Quite simply, they blew us away. They did the big things any good EDO would do – assisting with possible locations, navigating all the local decision-making bodies, and so on. But they also did their homework on our company and our people. They knew every little detail about us. They linked us with people in the community – local officials, realtors, contractors, recruiters and so on – who could help us. They showed us everything the area had to offer as far as housing, schools, universities, and entertainment, and they did it with style – red carpet treatment all the way. Their message as a region quickly became clear: “We want you.” And it made all the difference. Our new location in the Dublin community, just outside of the city, opens later this fall.

We recently hosted a reception in Dublin to announce our timing and plans and One Columbus brought out all the parties involved. County, city, township, business leaders, nonprofits, all stood in that room and celebrated a visible win because they share their Legos. They have a vision, they say “we” and they keep score. Together, they “won” our business.

That’s the kind of coordinated, comprehensive approach Traverse Connect intends to take. But the greatest EDO on the planet won’t be effective if the community doesn’t unify behind it and share a vision of who we are and what we want. Supporting it should be a no-brainer for all of us. But this has not been the case to date.

Recently, for instance, the Grand Traverse County Commission passed a resolution that essentially prevents the county from financially supporting Traverse Connect, our new regional EDO. That’s disappointing because many, many people – including county commissioners and administration – worked hard to create this new entity, and everyone who lives here has a stake in its success. It’s also disappointing because the internet has made it possible for almost any business to relocate or expand here. We need to grab this opportunity. Again, Traverse Connect is our best shot of doing so.

Going forward, our measure of success should be how often we use the word “we,” as in “We did this joint project with the city, county, township or state,” or “OK, we don’t agree with everything that’s been proposed but we’re supporting it anyway because there’s a greater good at stake.” We should also track how well our organizations and leaders work together.

We share this wonderful place. We should also share the task of making it better. Share the Legos, folks. We can do this.

Onward and upward!

McKeel Hagerty is the CEO of Hagerty.