Main Street pic
Flickr photo CC/by Thomas Hawk

I was having a conversation last night about the idea of a class of cities that exist somewhere between the staid and the ultimately cool. We could deliberate at length about what cities fall into what classes, but my intent was to reflect on the ways communities market themselves.

In sports parlance, there are programs that have an ability to recruit coaches who ply their trade and build a team from nothing into something substantial. They’re informally called “starter programs” and the idea is, a coach will move on after building a program to head elsewhere and try it in a new market, usually for more money than their previous job. These programs exist regardless of how much a mid-tier program tries to do to keep a coach, simply because the money and opportunities being offered are far too great to turn down after years of toiling as an assistant coach to get a head coaching job.

Cities don’t exist in this paradigm, if you consider the rhetoric of most economic development websites. Whether it’s a big city, rural town hours from a highway or something in-between, there exists this fallacy that all people need to launch a huge, successful business is land and/or some kind of warehouse full of infrastructure. Without getting too deep into all of the components that might make a business work well, I’m just wondering if there’s a way for cities to capitalize on whatever their core market is, for a period of time before almost encouraging people to move on.

Smaller cities and states as a whole do a really poor job of engaging expats. I can understand why, to a certain extent. Why would Patdkoota, Illinois want to spend a lot of time heaping praise on its fictional son who has left to success in a much larger city like Chicago or much better. Still, having communities recognizing their place in the landscape of migration, could offer sustainable advantages. For one, you could attract talent that might not otherwise stay. Another benefit is leveraging talent in your community for its benefit.

I’m working on this actively with students who will eventually leave the city, to figure out ways to connect and engage them while they’re here. Starter cities aren’t bad, it can be a good way to reinvent a community as a destination, without blowing money on boondoggles that don’t help you achieve your goals.

J

Anyone who knows me well, is aware I’ve lived a lot of places. Almost all of these moves have been some combination of work-based or relationship-based relocations.

One of the challenges of pulling up stakes and relocating is cultivating networks. Since my formative years, I’ve always been involved in civic projects. Not every community is tailor-made for an outsider to show up and participate in substantive ways on issues that might be related to policy and/or innovation.

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I fit. Without the connective tissue to keep you rooted in a place, all you have is work and whatever relationships you cultivate on your own. These foundations are not always built strong enough to maintain life in a small place, especially if you’re upwardly mobile and have broader networks in bigger places.

So what’s a peripatetic person to do? This post isn’t prescriptive, it’s reflective of my own path. At the moment, I’m doing what I always do. I try to figure out ways to meld my entrepreneurial goals with whatever established activities are already going on wherever I am. My goal is to get in where I can, but resources matter, as do having the infrastructure and a team to execute big ideas and goals.

I feel like there is a lot we can do, when we’re focusing on our own contributions and let people know we exist. It’s easy to sit at home and expect that opportunities are just supposed to come to you. But most people don’t know the talent embedded in their own communities. While it’s great to create activities to engage and ignite interest, the reality is, we sometimes have to raise our voices and let people know we’re here and what we’d like to do.

Critical mass is important, but so is working within the confines of what your circumstances are as a person or a community.

In a world beset with important problems ranging from hunger to climate change, stateless people seeking a better life for themselves and families, how is it that we can spend so much time and attention on the sheer uselessness of professional sport?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question, because I have an often uncomfortable relationship with sports fandom. People can take it too far, much like they can take anything too far. But an entire set of industries borne around an industry we don’t own, but take a modicum of ownership in, seems useless when we think about al of the ways that we could be benefitting our communities and society at large if we didn’t have so much invested in games that have become bigger than life itself.

When I first saw the tweet above, I thought “well, what separates an athlete making millions from an actor or a hedge fund manager?” Sports are games we play on our own, so it’s easy to look at someone playing a kid’s game and believe that we’re a lot closer to them than a person locked inside a windowless office staring at a computer screen for 14 hours a day. We relate to athletes in ways that we cannot with someone who willingly gets on stage and bears their soul in a song or performs dramatic works in a moving theatrical performance.

So what is it about sports? Can you both abhor the NCAA as an entity and root for the athletes and/or the universities they represent? Is it a massive contradiction to watch gridiron football, hockey or baseball when teams willingly bear caricatures on their uniforms; often with owners, management and players who have retrograde views not in lockstep with a forward-thinking society?

Or should we just be spending our time in better ways? The biggest criticism of sports fandom is how it can consume people’s lives to the detriment of all other things. I find this most offensive when considering how much time we spend in the US on youth sports, when decades ago, kids mostly played with people in their neighborhoods in unsupervised games with always needing adults to mete out the winners and losers.

We’ve surely lost something in a world of millionaire athletes, billionaire owners, subsidies for stadiums and tens of thousands of screaming people who feel entitled to a piece of people for having paid scrip to watch the circus perform. But I’m not sure that sports are the symptom or the remedy for what ails us.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means not just to be an American, but a citizen at large. Amidst this thinking is pondering precisely what responsibility comes with citizenship, how that intertwines with community and whether the collective good is something attainable and how we define what “good” is.

For me, sports are a way to connect with people I’d probably never talk to otherwise. When I find myself, a borderline teetotaler at a bar, knowing I can talk intelligently about all of the other things that interest me, as well as the historical origins of most sports — because I’ve just always been interested — is exciting to me. Sports is a vocabulary no different than my passion for shoegaze records, Star Trek or preference for coming-of-age indie films. I used to be too good for television shows, too. A winter in a rural town fixed that for me, because there were only so many things I could do on the computer.

Participating in an unequal world means making a lot of compromises in order to function day to day. Sports is just another of them. Fandom doesn’t excuse us. We should be cognizant of our complicity in the structures that inhibit progress, even unwittingly.

I’ve worked on a number of website migration projects over the past decade. At a certain point, you get really good at understanding the pitfalls and developing a roadmap for moving projects forward across the various stages. Most of the time, web migrations — to a new content management system or just a redesign of site architecture — happen with people who are onboard for the entire length of the project. Whether it’s the staff working in a company, a consulting firm or some type of collaboration, the folks involved with making the project launch get to assess the landscape and make key decisions as the process goes on.

My experience has fit this traditional stance, but it’s also involved a number of times walking into a website migration already in progress; some of the scenarios include:

  • A half-built website waiting to be completed and migrated.
  • The planning stages of a website migration, but with key tactical decisions mapped out and a lack of flexibility on making critical changes.
  • A new site designed & built, but with no new content to migrate.

Doing research about web migrations already in progress or even the content migration process in general is dicey because every organization works differently. Editorial workflows, governance and staffing for managing technical capabilities are all different and depending on those quirks, advising people in general ways can be difficult.

Common challenges to migration

There exists quite a bit of information about managing things like information architecture or the mechanics of the migration process. But what happens after those parts are complete? Who is responsible for what?

Thinking a lot about the ways that we structure our organizations, the issues with project management of content migration is a lot of responsibilities fall in-between roles. Often, the people leading these initiatives do not the authority in their organizations to execute much of the clout necessary to agitate people in other divisions to handle their responsibilities.

The problem with showing up mid-flight in a web project is a lot of they decisions have already been made. Time is the one thing you can’t buy more of; everyday you waste is another day the project which was behind before you showed up can be launched.

1. Your Project Manager probably has another job.

Website migrations are often hybrid affairs where an in-house staffer is tasked with melding all of the internal resources around the project. This would be fine if this person didn’t have other responsibilities that often overlap with the project itself or in another area entirely. In the odd chance you have people whose responsibilities are only project management, you’re faced with a PM who might have a good handle on the scope of each of the moving parts of the project and thus, ill-equipped to move the ball forward and light a fire under people when necessary.

2. Amok with content debt

If you ignore content long enough, you get a progressive rot of content on the website that can be seemingly impossible to get a handle on. When you’re about to migrate is the best time to revisit processes & come up with a governance structure that makes sense. In a lot of organizations, this is easier said than done, because convincing the right people to allow the focus to be on content can be a battle. Does this mean we ignore the content? No. It’s just worth being aware of the difficulties many organizations face with making sense of their content, much less migrating or being willing to invest resources into make it better.

3. Identify each stage of the process

Every workplace is different. Within those organizations are a variety of complexities that make each phase of the migration process difficult. Much like a maze, it can be easy to get stuck on one aspect of the process to the exclusion of the big picture. If you can target your laser on getting content migrated, you’ll have an easier time later of focusing on the other tasks that might be important to you like improving various aspects of design.

An example of a content migration planning timeline document

Once you’ve reached the stage where you’ve:

  • selected a CMS
  • have an approved design, coded and templates implemented;

the best thing you can do is focus your energy on developing a strategy for all of the moving parts left.

How do you identify those stages? By deciding what’s important and targeting the specific barriers to getting content refined and migrated to your new website. In our example above, the stages are outlined based on the specific areas that need to be tackled by the organization.

Your case might be different, the keys are ensuring that information is presented in an action-oriented, simple fashion that allows anyone viewing the project to understand what tasks will be completed and a rough estimate of how long it should take. If you’re working with multiple staff assigned to tasks, creating an “owner” section of the sheet could be useful.


Not every organization can afford an army of help mounting a content migration. If you’re faced with a situation where you have a small team focused on the task of transferring content, the best skill in your arsenal is going to be an ability to document a roadmap & plan with simple deliverables that get you closer to actually achieving the task at hand — migrating your content.

Keeping organized and establishing ground rules for the various aspects of your project, whether through existing guidelines or new ones you propose, will ensure the smoothest ride until you land on the ground with a new site in tow.

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I never thought much  about growing up in a place where black people played tennis. It just happened that my hometown happened to have the best public tennis facility in our area, so much that people from suburban areas would flock to our courts to play and practice with coaches our in town.

I think a lot about this, because I realized when I was in my late 20s that growing up where I did probably shaped much of my worldview in ways that being someplace else might not have. I’m not saying it was all perfect, it was far from that. But just the access to influences who didn’t just look like me, but who were a melange of characters who demanded excellence in different ways, helped shape my perspective because I wasn’t a stranger to black excellence. Not only that, it never occurred to me that there were jobs or things off-limits to me because growing up I saw black people who did everything. My first doctor was black, all of my school principals except one were black — my first elementary school principal was a black woman for 5 of the 6 years I was in that school.

Even the white teachers I had seemed to be hellbent on teaching us in ways that defied conventional expectations. We were reading Orwell in elementary school. We participated in activities like Odyssey of The Mind that took us away from our town and around the state and region to compete — and succeed at high levels.  When I lived  in distant places years later, it occurred to me at different times there were people who simply had never encountered a black person in a leadership position. Or a black dude who was the tech guy and not the basketball coach. I joke about this sometimes, but it really does matter. How people see  you doesn’t just affect how they treat you, it impacts the range of opportunities you’re offered and the ways people perceive your smarts because  they’re not quite sure how you got where you are — since they’ve never seen anyone doing what you’re doing.

That’s not my problem, though. And yet, it becomes my problem more often than now. It doesn’t excuse being less than excellent. Make no mistake, I’ve been afforded some fantastic mentors and people throughout my adult life who have seen things in me I had not yet seen in myself. They’ve supported my goals, encouraged me and tried to connect me to bigger and better things. Almost none of them looked anything like the people I grew up with.

I just felt the need to connect the dots on representation. I know some people look at “firsts” in 2016 and think even the mention of such things is a step backwards. “Why does it matter?” “Why can’t we just celebrate these accomplishments as Americans?” We can, but there’s an added joy to defying expectations, especially when there are structural barriers to many of the things that people still want to do today. Remember that successful might happen globally or nationally, but it starts locally.

Think of bridge trolls as gatekeepers. Every time you want to do something, there might be one person to determine whether you get to do it or not. Sure, you can go to another town but that takes time and money. Or find a private club that’ll accept you. Maybe it’s just finding someone who sees your ability and talent and is willing to nurture it. Success is measured in small distances, not big gaps, especially at the elite level. What separates the people who make it, is often a matter of timing and opportunity.

Whenever there’s some historic achievement where someone is mentioned to be the “first” to do something — specifically here in America — I often vacillate between being annoyed that we have to mention it and grateful that we live in a time where such barriers are falling.

I try to reflect on every moment  as if it’s penance to the people who  were denied access, who fought and broke rules and raised hell to give their forebears access to the opportunities they now enjoy freely.

Every time you hear “so and so is the first _____ to do _____,” it’s a little whisper of apology from every single person who might not have been complicit, but part of the collective debt we all share from a past with fingerprints all over our lives today and how we live them.

I tend to look at different mediums as a way to connect with people. I’m less concerned with the mechanics, often. For instance, podcasting. For me, it’s just another vehicle for connecting and getting a message out. More importantly, I’m interested in the stories other people have to tell and what they’re interested in sharing. I’m not as concerned about immersing myself in all things podcasting, going to every podcasting conference there is or becoming a hobbyist in the sport.

What I’m learning the past few years, is subcultures take their crafts very seriously. They’re not as happy about people showing up to the buffet late without a desire to participate fully in the statecraft of whatever rituals and exercises they’ve developed.

I love the DIY space between the start of something and before it becomes formalized. I liked the web before they started convincing kids they needed degrees in it. That empty space where people can tinker, communicate, share and fail is special.

Once there are gatekeepers, I’m a lot less interested in being involved.