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Column: Right mindset key to approaching opportunities

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Once again we are blessed with another downtown crisis with the departure of the Sears store, the question about the Crump and the old Pump House use.

I say blessed, because these are the times that real change can come about. And, on the other hand, it can be a time of static struggle. It all has to do with the mindset we have as we approach this.

What I have found is that most people are of the “problem solving” mindset. This means that they get activated when something breaks down, and they wish to “fix it” — certainly a necessary capability in any community/organization. The juices get flowing when there is some failure people can react to. It is a desire to get things back to normal, however that is defined.

Being of this mindset does not guarantee that one is a good problem solver. Those are the one’s who have a good grasp of how the “broken” thing works, gather good data, explore for the root cause of failure and put into place a permanent solution. Many with the problem solving mindset just patch it quickly, get something done and move on the next problem. They revisit problems often.

A less common mindset is the “design” thinker. These folks are always looking at things with an eye to how it can have a different solution.

The designer looks at a future where everything is put together in a new way. Kind of like what an architect does, when you go and ask to have your dream house built. They take in the main factors of the current situation, but then rearrange and picture a fresh future alternative.

In the businesses I worked with, the vast majority were problem solvers, some better than others. The designers were usually the technical people who were let to “do their thing.”

But when those times came to redesign the organization (mainly because the old structure was no longer working), the problem solvers would struggle. It was not their thing. To “envision a new possibility” was so much “la la land” to them.

As a community, we were blessed with some strong visionary leaders who have helped create Columbus what it is today. It also helps to have lots of money.

Now, there is no one person holding so much sway in our future. Now, we must have leaders who are comfortable and willing to look to new possibilities, and then communicate effectively to all those problem solvers out there and begin implementation. In my experience, the second part is always the most difficult.

In a business, a vision of a better future must have everyone on board, or it will not happen. Most large businesses do not achieve their vision, but slip back into the old habits of operation.

In a community, this job is a little different. First of all, you cannot fire all those who do not want to help achieve the vision, and secondly, most people are busy making a living, raising a family, or doing other things and are passive about the future.

But they do fund it with taxes, and elect the people who are pointing the way. As we all know, politics can make things messy.

I guess my main point is to help some of the problem solvers appreciate the design thinking, and to understand that both are necessary, but different.

The city is asking for input on our downtown future, so here is a little exercise that may help. You can do this now or wait for when you have more time. Simply close your eyes, take some deep breaths, let your mind go quiet (as much as possible).

When you are relaxed, take a mental journey into the next few years and go visit downtown Columbus. Imagine walking around, interacting with the space, and what do you see happening? What is different? What draws people there? Who are those people? Take a walk around several blocks and just see what is there. What do you want Columbus to look like?

Everyone may not have the same vision, but to use this mindset can help us appreciate each other and the fact that we can see things differently and still find common ground.

This visioning capability can be practiced and improved upon. It is the source of finding a better future. And there will be plenty of problems to be solved along the way.

Columbus retiree Tom Lane is the latest addition to our contributors for the weekly Community Column. He served as a consultant to a number of companies in his career. In recent years his has been a familiar name to readers of The Republic’s letters to the editor. He can be reached at

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