Last Saturday, we visited the Keller Farmers Market in our suburban community. (It was our first time I am ashamed to admit!) We went expecting the same type of Farmers Market I remembered as a kid — lots of fresh produce, but basically a handful of selections repeated again and again by different vendors. I was surprised and thrilled at what I discovered.
There was the usual array of locally grown fruits and vegetables with an emphasis on organic and pesticide free. But rather than booth after booth of the same produce, something new had developed on the Farmers Market front. In addition to the fruits and vegetables, all sorts of locally produced specialty foods were available that catered to consumers who want premier quality meals conveniently packaged to make planning and preparing the coming week’s meals quick, easy, nutritious and delicious.
Booths included freshly grilled chicken, homemade tamales, crab ravioli, local wines, fresh bakery goods, free-range pork, Texas Longhorn beef (with less cholesterol than turkey!) and so much more — including lots of organic fruits and vegetables. And virtually everything had been designed in convenient meal size packaging to make it easy for the consumer to buy just the right amount they would need for a single convenient, healthy and delicious meal.
And did I mention designed, planned and packaged for convenience?
In the world I grew up in, you went to the Farmers Market when you had the time for a special day of shucking peas, canning fruit, and cooking from scratch. It was always a wonderful family experience and created lots of memories, but it was the antithesis of convenient. You went to the Farmers Market expressly when you were NOT feeling rushed.
By now you are wondering, “What the heck does this have to do with leadership and innovation?” In reality — everything.
Farmers Markets across the nation are struggling and closing because they have failed to innovate; they have failed to respond to the needs of modern consumers; and they have failed to change the way they do business. The Keller Farmers Market is thriving (many of the vendors have been there for 4 years or more). And it is thriving precisely because it has changed and innovated and responded to the changing expectations of consumers. In short, the Keller Farmers Market made a commitment to be a “16% organization” and their vision for excellence is paying dividends to both vendors and consumers. Indeed, it contributes to making the community more vibrant, alive and dynamic which translates into a higher quality of life for everyone.
If the founders had clung to the old ways of doing business, if they had resisted changing to meet the demands of consumers, they would have gone the way of so many other farmers markets across the nation — just scraping by and struggling to survive.
Local governments face the same choices. We must innovate; we must respond to the changing needs of our citizens; and we must change the way we do business if we are to thrive. Those who cling to the old ways of doing business and resist change are choosing a future of mediocrity.
The future of your community is too important to cling to the past. Rethink how you are doing business. Search for better ways to listen to ALL of your citizens (not just the shouters). Ask hard questions about whether the forces of mediocrity are mortgaging your future.
And then make a commitment to being a 16% organization. Make a commitment to shaping the destiny of your organization and community into what you know it is capable of becoming. Make a commitment to making a difference.