For Baskerville, economic progress is a real stretch
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Baskerville’s experience with them in the business world suggests otherwise, but that’s not to say they are immediately embraced. He notes that Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the 1960s was viewed skeptically by some, especially given the enormous complexity of the project, yet it was maintained over three presidential administrations and finally accomplished in July 1969.
“It’s been my experience that if a company either has a new opportunity, a major new opportunity they have never been in, or perhaps they need to move for survival reasons, that with stretch targets — long-term targets — the first reaction in an organization is always can’t do it, shouldn’t do it, nobody has ever done it, and we don’t have the resources to do it,” he states. “If the senior leadership maintains that commitment and indeed provides some of the resources, it’s amazing what companies can do.”
A believer in the proposition that it’s not how much you spend but how wisely you spend it, Baskerville cites examples in other states, especially Massachusetts. About 20 years ago, he notes the Bay State did three standard-setting things:
- First, elected officials there said high school graduation requirements are going to be really tough. “Specifically, they said if a kid can’t get to this certain level, he just won’t graduate in Massachusetts,” Baskerville says. “They gave the kids six years and didn’t flunk out anyone for six years.”
- Secondly, they looked at the professional requirements for doctors and lawyers, noted how stringent these certifications were, and extended that to teachers. “They tied that certification with their subject matter, as well as teaching, so a great science teacher has to know science at a really high level, and eighth grade math, etc.,” Baskerville states. “In the first year, 51% of the Massachusetts teachers were certified. They didn’t fire anyone. They gave them six years.”
- Thirdly, in what Baskerville called a “politically beautiful or politically unbelievable” development, they sustained that commitment over multiple gubernatorial administrations — Democrat and Republican — and the Republican was Mitt Romney. “They made a commitment and they sustained that thing,” Baskerville marveled. “Apparently, it didn’t have great, huge results immediately, but by year five, even before this six-year deadline, they were clearly moving.”
As a result, Baskerville says Massachusetts is approaching some global levels in terms of test results. “That state is Democratic, pro-union, and progressive, so it’s doable here,” he states. “People sort of look at you as though you’re in a different world, but I keep getting back to my world, which is international business, and I’ve seen workers being trained on several continents. To have those basics, they are going to be better skilled, and get more investments, and be able to make sophisticated products than our labor force will be.”
Road less traveled
Although about 370 people statewide have signed on to support stretch targets, Baskerville acknowledged his quest has been pretty much a one-person effort up to this point. Now 80, he has pitched his plan to Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs all over the state, and knows he will have to bring millennials on board to take the baton and deal with the political polarization he sees.
In other words, the demand for this kind of change will have to come from the grass roots. Without public pressure, “the politicians aren’t going to set long-term goals, much less enforce them,” he says. “They did it in one state — Massachusetts — and with marvelous results. These are long-term goals. You don’t immediately turn around an economy that’s been going relatively south for 35 years, and you don’t do it with short-term fixes.
“But we love this place and we think it has potential, and as the old Yiddish proverb says, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.’”
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