On Thinking about Kennett

Bob George

When you’re a carpenter and your only tool is a hammer, your whole world looks like a nail.” Abraham Maslow.

The Maslow quote above rings true to anyone who ever worked as a consultant? Joan Holliday and I wrote “The Story of Kennett” and as we tried to get our arms around this community that is Kennett, we have used the tools we are most familiar with; interviewing, reflection, benchmarking for best practices, and gap analysis. Joan is well versed in organizational effectiveness from her years of leading community efforts in the public health arena. I have worked on hundreds of benchmarking and performance improvement projects at DuPont, some at Penn State and others for the Navy. There are tools available that can help you think about a subject holistically. Six Thinking Hats, developed by Dr. Edward de Bono in 1985, became one of the standard tools of performance improvement. It is this set of tools that we will use to analyze and structure our thinking about Kennett. What the thinking hats do is force you to look at your subject with different kinds of thinking, from different angles and there are usually some “Aha!s”.

1) Blue Hat thinking is the thinking process that went into this book, which shares the insights of a wide-range of community members, their goals and the big picture. We won’t bore you with all the planned meetings and deadlines, the dead ends, missed deadlines and rewrites we encountered in writing our book. Just realize that it may be true that nothing worth doing is ever easy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be rewarding.

2) White Hat thinking provides a look at the data describing the make-up of Kennett. It shows what we know about the demographics of the town, the statistics on graduation rates, employment and labor information, level of poverty, income levels and residential breakdown. We thought that this part of our project would really be easy, but good data is hard to find. We have the regional economic development plan, but much of that is about real-estate.

3) Red Hat thinking is a focus on how you feel and what your gut tells you. Joan and I talked about how we both came up at the same time with the feeling that the story of Kennett as it came across to us, was “about the kids.” It seems that there is an underlying belief held by the volunteers, leaders and the community as a whole, that if we “get the kids right” then a lot of other stuff will fall into place. We also want the book to be a celebration of the successes of these programs, with stories that show how they are authentically meeting the needs of the community’s youth.

4) Yellow Hat thinking is about the logical positive view which permeates all of our thinking on the subject. What is Kennett doing to get these results, how do the different classes and cultures meld into a successful process? We peeled back the layers of the community and found thousands of people making a difference. It is this kind of thinking that makes you start to tear up when you read that in 2014-15 the U.S. achieved a new record of graduation rates in 4 years from High School 83.2 percent. This is up from 79 percent from four years earlier. To see positive results like this reaffirms all the work and hopeful thinking that has gone into one’s life.

5) Green Hat thinking is all about creativity. This type of thinking was responsible for the Themes, Path Forward, and the Stress Test. One of the interviewees brought up the James Fallows article that talked about how important a downtown was to a community. Mary Hutchins of Historic Kennett Square pointed out that our youth programs, many of which are located downtown, were enjoying their success in this area. So, we took Fallows’ questions about what makes for a successful town and applied them to Kennett. We figured that if you can apply a stress test to a bank, you should be able to measure a town’s viability through a stress test.

6) Black Hat thinking is all about practical, realistic identification of problems, pitfalls and reasons why a process wouldn’t work smoothly. It deals with the forces that could turn Kennett into the kind of town that is not a good place to raise a child. One like Mos Eisley, where “the Force” isn’t very strong and, as Obi-Wan Kenobi warned Luke Skywalker, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Using this Black Hat thinking, we highlighted some red flags that I will address in future articles. Issues like income inequality in our economic system are ones we will have to deal with, but addressing the tax code is not within the scope of our thinking. We are not focused on why we can’t do something, but on what might get in the way of our success and how we will work around it. The question of “What’s wrong with this picture?” is a healthy one; it makes you consider plan B and helps you prepare for the heavy seas that may occur in the future. After all, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. (John Lennon)

Books may be purchased on Amazon and at the Mushroom Cap or Resale Book Shoppe in Kennett. You may contact Bob at georgert@gmail.com

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