“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.”
The past decade has been one of great successes and bold failures, of economic opportunity and uncompromising struggle. There are things that we have become certain of through experience or have been illuminated by advancements in data and technology. There are big problems, though, that remain – as if in a fog – perplexing, confusing and incomplete. At best, they lead to insufficient remedies and at worst, they lead to even greater inequities.
As we approach the uncertain road of the coming decade, we also anticipate and are anxious about technologies and events that will unfold in the future that we perhaps cannot even conceive today. Therein lies both great opportunity and unmeasured risk.
Communities that have a vision, a clear plan, and are willing to invest aggressively and consistently, will outperform their peers. Those that invest in people through education, workforce systems and the development of the most vulnerable will reap big rewards from business over time. Those that diminish their risks and outweigh their advantages will suffer the consequences as the economy and the world changes.
Problems can be complex. The best efforts of leaders that have come before us have led to some great things and have also led to some terrible outcomes. We know that systems in education, transportation and housing have both benefited us greatly and also divided our communities. We know that we are not fully utilizing our capacity and that we will need to do things differently if we plan to remedy these decades-old problems. This is where we live and breathe most days in economic development – solving for most of the variables, and calculating risk on what has yet to be defined.
This is an arena where the brilliant academic, the entrepreneur and the bold risk-taker lives, imagining solutions to unnamed problems and pushing us all forward technically and socially. This is also where we all live, subject to world events that reshape global order, such as natural disasters, substantive social change, great medical advancements, etc. This is the area where civic leaders who imagine a different future resist history, redefine norms and challenge us to act and think differently.
As we look forward, let us not deny the clear facts and data in the present. Let us act upon them practically, swiftly and for the benefit of the many – not merely the few. Let us not be frozen by those issues with incomplete information, but endeavor to innovate and to seek different means and ends to long denied answers. Finally, let us embrace the unknown unknowns, to commit to be curious, to put a high value on collaboration and relationships in both good and tough times, and use these events to steel our resolve and accelerate our ambition.
It has been a helluva decade. Let’s appreciate all of the knowns and the unknowns on the road ahead.