The Green Grass Grows

I looked longingly west.

I stood at the terminal and watched the most talented people I knew shuffle down the berber jetway. Their heads ached, their hair in desperate need of a comb, hidden under faded and worn hats embellished with the iconic old english D. They smelled of champagne from the night before. Their legs were undoubtedly exhausted from dancing up until a few hours ago. Perched atop each of their heads was a single pair of cheap sunglasses, a symbol of the green grass they were seeking.

Packed neatly into their luggage was the shimmery green smock and square tasseled cap that represented their cause for celebration. Woven into the fabric of the smock was four long years of hard work and dedication. Their luggage safely tucked in the belly of the compassionless cool whale that was going to carry them west, like so many of our american ancestors before us, chasing the American Dream.

The American Dream. Mark Zuckerberg. Startups.

Who can blame them for leaving? It’s not the money they were chasing. They were chasing the agency. It’s difficult to make a name for yourself in Detroit, surrounded by one of the most successful generations of American history. Only a couple years ago Oakland County was the 8th wealthiest county in the nation. The ‘old guard’ accumulated success with their hands. “Startups? This is Detroit. We make stuff.” they’d caw.

The new generation, my generation, walks around with their heads down, tweeting and texting and Facebooking. We want to arrange pixels on a flat screen, and that’s our calling?

I think so. I thought so.

I stayed behind. I believe that there is an opportunity to shift the status quo. I thought all that we needed was a culture shift. The old guard just doesn’t realize the value contained in the pixels, ready to be unleashed. Don’t they want to keep the graduates from boarding the airplane too? Those talented people are my friends, but their children.

All we have to do is look at the green grass they are going to, and sow the same seed. How hard can it be?

Pay attention. We’re going to miss it.

Stop Looking West.

I miscalculated.

Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. Roughly translated means “Phoenixes are a big deal around here.” The thing about phoenixes are that when they are reborn, they are reborn as phoenixes, not as anything else.

No doubt Detroit has undergone a baptism by fire in recent years. The city’s previous successes have scared the physical landscape as well as the cultural one. Along with the successes that scarring has ended, and the city is beginning to heal. The old guard and the new are making ambitious attempts to resurrect the urban core. Everyone is anxious to see words like ‘old guard’ removed from the vernacular. We’re all just collaborators pouring accelerant on the ashes of this phoenix. We can see her spreading her wings and she’s beautiful.

I used to think that salvation would come in the form of startups. I used to think “all we need is another Groupon.” I thought that if we could just land one high profile startup story, the nation would perk up and pay attention. That all the spring airplanes full of our hemorrhaged grads would turn around mid-flight. The passengers would parachute down onto the city, macbook in hand, pushing repos mid-descent.

To think of that as the spirit of Detroit is to be mistaken. That dream belongs to another place’s sleep and we’re just waking up. We shake each other’s hands around here, and our hands are leathery and worn. These hands convey a strength, a confidence. In World War II these hands kept America safe. As we continue to push forward let’s not forget what we’re good at. This is Detroit. We make stuff.

Success…

Is where preparation meets opportunity.

The Internet changed everything. It really was the modern industrial revolution. A handful of people were able to see the Internet’s potential. That foresight made them extremely successful. They were rewarded with wealth, agency, and legacy. They changed the world, they made a dent. It’s only natural to want these people as a mentor.

“Web 2.0″ took that further. Everybody gets a soapbox. Content democratized completely, and now communicates with other content. Applications produce their own content and can now talk to other applications. Information systems capture all these communications and turn it into meaningful, actionable insights. We are maximizing efficiency online. Data entry used to be something a human did.

That efficiency is leaking. The power of the internet is oozing out of your screen onto your desk. You are stepping in it and tracking it all over your city, into your car, into your home.

We are in the early stages of two very important new industrial eras, and Detroit needs to pay attention.

This is Detroit. We Make Stuff.