Iâ€™m beginning a series of short postings about how cities decide things and how leaders can help their communities make smarter decisions. Iâ€™m calling these brief essays â€œRules for Reformers.â€ Each will have a illustration, some scribbled key words, or a hand-drawn chart that, I hope, will make the ideas stick a little longer with you. (If the drawings seem a tad childish, feel free to blame the artist, who is . . . me.)
The rules come from conversations Iâ€™ve had over the years with civic leaders. The best leaders Iâ€™ve knownâ€“from mayors and county executives to chamber executives and CEOsâ€“operate mostly from tacit knowledge, a set of understandings about power, change, and human nature that they accumulate over a lifetime and which becomes instinctual. As a result, they know how to get things done, they just canâ€™t explain how they do it, and they certainly canâ€™t teach it. This is fine with me because Iâ€™m in the explaining business.
My caution is that this is that these brief postings are meant to be simple, and maybe even overly simple. Theyâ€™re general rules, not a guide to every circumstance. More than anything else, I hope youâ€™ll turn to them when youâ€™re stuck on a civic problem or obstacle. By reading a few of these rules, you may come across something that helps you figure a way through the problem or around the obstacle.
And about the name . . . Some of you have already figured out itâ€™s a play on the name that the legendary Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky gave to his 1971 book, â€œRules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.â€ Iâ€™m not a fan of Alinskyâ€™s or of his book. For one thing, Iâ€™m no radical. For another, his book isnâ€™t actually helpful for people wanting to learn about community organizing. Itâ€™s more of a collection of war stories with a few philosophical musings (and even a sexist joke) thrown in. But itâ€™s a great name.
So, with apologies to the late Mr. Alinsky, here are my Rules for Reformers. Iâ€™ll start with a few, add a few more, and weâ€™ll see where things go from there. Please let me know what you think.