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Mar 21, 201911:00 AMMaking Madison

with Buckley Brinkman

Optimism meets reality

(page 1 of 2)

Normally I’m an unbridled optimist, believing that we can handle any challenge if we work together. That optimism took a serious hit this week.

Our future success demands flexibility and collaboration. Change in this day and age moves too fast for anyone — or any group — to have all the answers. The world’s complexity passed the point where simple, linear answers solve important issues a long time ago. We face unprecedented challenges that require pragmatic approaches, not fractious victories.

I wrote about this earlier in the context of the state budget. Neither side in the process is entirely right, or all wrong. We face huge challenges that the vast majority agree need to be solved. These challenges require solutions where everyone wins — mostly. I wrote optimistically about finding a path where the state flourishes.

That optimism went “Splat!” last week, sitting at my desk and following my usual routine listening to Michael Smerconish on SiriusXM radio. He interviewed Amanda Ripley, a contributor to The Atlantic, who delivered some disturbing insights. She spoke of partisan prejudice and political tolerance throughout the country. Nothing new, right?

Next, she referenced an interactive map showing the results on a county-by-county basis, so for personal amusement I tried it. Of course, I looked at Dane County and there my illusions were shattered. Dane County fell into the 100th percentile as one of the most intolerant counties in the country. The news wasn’t any better for Wisconsin as a whole. Almost the entire state is dark green or turquoise — the two worst colors on the map. Not a very pretty picture.

Like most people, my first reaction was to dismiss the entire article. Isn’t it more comfortable that way? Reflecting a bit more, I came to the realization that the research made a valid point about us. We aren’t as tolerant as we like to believe. The map shows the damage of a decade of infighting, all fueled by our provincial nature. My personal discussions usually prove this out. They start with the contentious issue at hand, but quickly move to labels or right-fighting. The discussion focuses on justification, rather than facts and the search for solutions.

This realization stunned me because the challenges we face demand collaborative solutions, not political wins. We can agree on many of these challenges, including these three:

  • The onset of the body gap and the demographics that show our workforce will not grow for the next two decades;
  • Technology advances that will transform the way we live and work; and
  • Deteriorating infrastructure that requires significant and creative investment to restore our critical structures to acceptable levels.

These challenges require transformational approaches. Incremental change won’t provide the progress we need to succeed — and time is not on our side!


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About This Blog

Buckley Brinkman is executive director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity and writes about the manufacturing sector in Greater Madison and throughout Wisconsin. He has a breadth of experience in helping companies drive growth, world-class competitiveness, and performance excellence, and has led efforts to save dozens of operations in the U.S. by finding new ways for them to compete. A Wisconsin native, Brinkman holds a business degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.



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