I recently took a delegation of business and community leaders, students, an alumna, and educators from Cumberland as well as Rowan University, to Massachusetts to meet with business and higher education leaders. We met with executives from Google, the Cambridge Innovation Center, and MIT’s Media Lab. We also made short stops at the Boston Public Library and Harvard University. Our purpose was to engage with disruptive innovators and learn from them how they built such successful organizations, fostered cultures of innovation, and developed institution-wide comfort with ambiguity, risk-taking, and constant evolution in competitive markets. The meetings were insightful. The sights were mind-blowing. We left inspired, having cultivated new allies and friends who committed to helping us any way they can.
We had ample takeaways from the meetings. I will highlight only a few. First, Google is built on a culture of asking “why not” and “what if,” rather than “we can’t,” “it’s too much,” and “it’s too fast.” Across all the meetings, collaboration came up as one of the most unifying themes. The executives also attributed their institutions’ successes to hiring people who can think outside of the box and are problem-solvers who see challenges from multiple viewpoints. MIT’s Media Lab was started with a group of brilliant academic “misfits” and continues to thrive because of them. Lastly, they emphasized having fun and not taking oneself too seriously.
While Cumberland County is no Boston or Cambridge, with close proximity to Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington D.C. as big urban hubs, with low real estate cost and many successful multi-generation enterprises that serve national and international markets, the county has a strong base of success from which to build and immense potential still. In Cumberland, we also have a growing population of youth that is culturally and linguistically Hispanic. Spanish is the second largest spoken language in the world, thus giving us great potential to reach deeper into the domestic Hispanic market as well as international markets.
Our challenge in the county is to cultivate leadership skills, an agile and entrepreneurial mindset among our youth, in addition to whatever technical skill or academic discipline they may gravitate toward. The future of Cumberland County can only be written by Cumberland itself—that is capitalizing on our human and social capital, as well as our natural resources. As someone who lived in Boston for 25 years, I know first-hand that when youth are empowered and taught to think that the world is their oyster and that no challenge is insurmountable, they deliver. Our challenge is to empower our youth and cultivate supportive home environments.
Now that we are back, all of us are inspired to take bold and courageous steps to working collaboratively for a better, stronger Cumberland. We may not be able to provide free massages, game rooms, gourmet lunches, sleeping pods, and fire poles to get from one floor to another, but entrepreneurship is in our DNA in Cumberland. Upward and onward, Cumberland!
Previously published on thedailyjournal.com on Dec. 9, 2017.