In A Democracy, Leadership Bubbles Up — It Is Not Imposed By Authority Deciding Who Is Worthy

David Esrati, on his web-site, makes reference to a post, by Scott Kirsner, that suggests that New England should adopt a “mission statement.” Esrati says, “There is nothing wrong with stealing good ideas.”

This is Kirsner’s suggestion for a “mission statement” for New England:

  1. Attract, educate, and retain the smartest people in the world.
  2. Support them in solving important problems, developing innovative products, and building successful businesses.
  3. Share what we’re doing with the rest of the world.
  4. Keep getting better at Items #1-#3.

Kirsner’s suggestions stirred up some discussion on the web-site, and Esrati’s web-site, but I’m surprised that none of the comments challenge the notion, whether or not, that Kirsner’s suggestion, in fact, is appropriate to be called a “mission statement.”

A “mission statement,” according to Wikipedia, “should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a sense of direction, and guide decision-making.”   It hardly seems to make sense that the “mission” — the “overall goal” — of an entire region like New England should be to “Attract, educate, and retain the smartest people in the world.”

I thought the overall goal of New England, or Dayton, or any region in America, has already been established, and is what we frequently affirm — “liberty and justice for all.”

I’m sure that totalitarian states like North Korea would like to harness “the smartest people” so that they will solve problems, develop products, increase their overall competitiveness, put people to work, etc.  Every Stalinist State, of course, seeks to find talented and hard working people who will throw themselves into zealous cooperation to advance the “mission” of the State.

But getting people fired up, educated, motivated — especially “smart people” — is not the “mission” of a Stalinist State, nor of democratic state.  It is a means toward an end, the means to achieving an overall goal.

I’m guessing that when Kirsner says the “mission” of New England should be to, “Attract, educate, and retain the smartest people in the world,” he is emphasizing that New England needs to cultivate effective leadership to solve problems, build businesses, make technological breakthroughs.  But his idea sounds very topdown — we (the powerful) are looking for “smart people” to give authority and privilege to.  It’s a concept that is embraced by every Stalinist.

To fulfill our stated goal of “liberty and justice for all,” topdown cannot work. We need bottom-up, grassroots approaches.  Nobody would have thought to “attract” or to solicit the Wright brothers, or Thomas Edison.  These successful problem solvers, ground breaking leaders, probably would not have fulfilled the definition of “smart,” agreed to by the powerful of their time.

The emphasis should not be on cultivating an elite, as Kirsner’s “mission statement” suggests, but on vitalizing our democracy.  In a vitalized democracy each person would have the resources and the opportunity to grow into his or her potential, each person would be nurtured and encouraged by an interconnected and enriched community.  In a democracy, greatness and leadership bubbles up, it is not imposed by some authority who somehow discerns who is “smart” or who is worthy.

Kirsner is absolutely correct. Not only New England, but Dayton and all of America needs authentic leadership — really in every endeavor — in government, business, science, education, religion.  Our failure to allow authentic leadership to rise in our society is a huge problem.  The answer is not through further gearing up elitism, that is already rampant, but through vitalizing our democracy.

For Our Future’s Sake, We Must Transform Our System of Elitism To a System of Democracy
Our Democracy Must Be Revived — If We Hope To Achieve The Dreams of Our Wisest and Best

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5 Responses to In A Democracy, Leadership Bubbles Up — It Is Not Imposed By Authority Deciding Who Is Worthy

  1. john b says:

    except that areas these days where there is innovation, more often than not, it was a topdown effort that necessitated that enterprise. or at least urged it along.

    i come from NC and the research triangle was a top-down decision decades ago and has made the raleigh-durham-chapel hill area one of the most vibrant medium-sized communities in the country. similar stories can be said for places like pittsburgh, austin, silicon valley and on and on.

    these things don’t normally spontaneously occur. it takes top-down and bottom-up efforts.

    in honesty it probably takes a grassroots swell to elect people who will carry out some of the necessary top-down actions.

    maybe i’m just misinterpreting what you’re saying, but coordinated action doesn’t typically happen on its own and gov’t is often the best way to make a coordinated effort for a community.

  2. Mike Bock says:

    john b — wow, that was a quick response.

    I’m not objecting to top-down action by government, as such. I’m saying that the “mission,” the “overall goal” of our society should never be allowed to be trivialized. Neither economic growth nor scientific progress is the mission, the overall goal of our society, and by making economic growth our goal we do ourselves a disservice. Our goal is a vitalized and authentic democracy where there is liberty and justice for all and, I believe, as we come closer to this ideal, increased vitality in our democracy will mean increased vitality in our economy and increased vitality in our science.

  3. Eric says:

    Could be the mission of the Kettering Foundation:
    1. Attract and retain the smartest people in the world.
    2. Support them in solving important problems.
    3. Share what we’re doing with the rest of the world.
    4. Keep getting better at Items #1-#3.

    … increased vitality in our democracy …

    Now that is an important problem which Kettering Foundation addresses. If you know any teachers or politicians who agree with you on the real mission of American communities, I’ll gladly supply them guidance on Kettering Foundation materials they might find helpful.

    Too bad Ohio’s social studies revision process didn’t benefit from your insights…

  4. erg says:


    i presume a ‘vitalized…democracy’ is one in which people actively participate. and economic growth, especially education, is one of the main vehicles that allows people to participate. education is absolutely an economic development issue.

    i interpret the NE mission statement to be a product of regional collaboration–something that dayton vitally (hah) needs.

  5. David Esrati says:

    To me-talk is cheap.
    But- thinking about a subject and debating it- is the first step toward action.
    I don’t consider our democracy as one that’s working- when so few people vote, so few people can run and the gap between the needy and the greedy is rapidly expanding.
    I throw things out for discussion, because that’s what leaders do.
    Can we make things better? Can we improve? How? Let’s chart a course.
    Of course- I’m not elected- or even a good candidate for election if you listen to the local power structure.

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