PRESS RELEASE: WorldBlu, Saving the World, “1” Billion People at a Time

On the heels of the Presidential election, WorldBlu announces its 2013 “WorldBlu Live”.  Are you tired of hearing bad economic news?  Is your organization in need of significant change?  Many successful organizations are implementing democratic principles and reaping the financial benefits.  WorldBlu Live can help you learn their techniques.

Would you like to meet and learn from people who are successfully cultivating democratic innovative and open-minded organizations?  Your destination is Denver, Colorado this spring.  The time to register is now, while rates are at their lowest.  Currently there are only 250 spaces available and last year’s event in San Francisco sold out.

WorldBlu Live keynote speakers include:

WorldBlu is on a mission to save the world, helping build a democratic work force, with a goal to impact over a billion people.  On May 15 & 16, 2013, in Denver, Colorado, leaders from all over the world will gather to promote WorldBlu’s principles of “freedom and democracy in the workplace.”

The theme of the conference will focus on three unique concepts, Design, Leadership, and Style.  Leaders will take a closer look at the 10 Principles of Democratic Design, including transparency, integrity and accountability, among others.

WorldBlu will introduce the concept of Freedom by Design (democratic design + freedom-centered leadership = democratic company).  Participants will learn essential skills from leaders employing this democratic design in successful world-class organizations.  All of this will be done, in style, at the Hyatt Regency in scenic-vibrant downtown Denver.  What will leaders share?

Specifically:

  • The 10 Principles of Organizational Democracy.
  • Breaking rules to achieve better results.
  • Writing your own rules to fit to your culture.
  • Leading techniques and tools for innovation.
  • Tangible skills to implement a democratic work environment.
  • Inspirational stories that will energize you!

The WorldBlu conference provides essential tools to cultivate democratic principles that can help move your business to the next level.  Industry leaders, such as Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh affirm the approach, “At Zappos, one of our Core Values is to create a positive team and family spirit. WorldBlu is a leader in the efforts to create happy, engaged workplaces and communities.”

Traci Fenton, WorldBlu CEO, suggests “this is more than just a conference, WorldBlu LIVE is an experience that combines a showcase for democratic innovation, a platform for rule-breakers, and an audience of revolutionaries. This is all wrapped in a unique, stylized environment that will leave you inspired, full of fresh ideas, and connected with a world-class community of leaders.”

Who will be attending?

  • FORTUNE 500 executives,
  • Small and mid-size entrepreneurs,
  • Heads of technology, marketing, communication & design,
  • Directors of innovation, and
  • Start-up entrepreneurs.

Why should you care about cultivating a democratic work environment?  Because companies like Zappos have utilized the democratic principles to help them become a “Best Companies to work for 2012.”  Tony Hseih will tell you it is part of the reason for their extraordinary growth and key employee retention.

In these dismal economic times, high growth and good employee retention are vital to success.  DaVita, a Fortune 500 healthcare company, operates with these democratic principles as well.

DaVita CEO Kent Thiry suggests, “There’s a saying – ‘No one washes a rental car.’ And what it means is that when people don’t feel ownership in something, they value it less and have less of a connection to the organization. That’s why we call ourselves ‘citizens’ of the DaVita Village, not merely residents. Citizens understand they have certain rights and responsibilities. And the principles of democracy help reinforce this citizenship and shared ownership in powerful ways.”

Register today.  WorldBlu wants to help you change the world by adopting these democratic principles.  WorldBlu is a global network of organizations committed to practicing freedom and democracy in the workplace.

The purpose of WorldBlu is to unleash human potential and inspire freedom by championing the growth of democratic organizations worldwide.  Our vision is to see 1 billion people working in free and democratic workplaces.  We do this through a range of programs and services that enable business leaders to design, develop, and lead the most successful democratic organizations in the world.  If you have questions or require more information, visit the WorldBlu website, email at us@worldblu.com or phone directly to 1 202 251 8099.

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Democracy in the Workplace

WorldBlu Democratic Values and Zappos’ Culture

Research:
Core: Zappos Core Values, Democratic Values, WorldBlu Values
Supporting:  Decision Making Authority

Summary:

Point of view
There are multiple structural ways to create a democratic environment.  Aspects such as decision-making authority, collaboration, communication, visionary leadership, business orientation (not political), strategy (not just size), people/profits (not just profits), are all important to the democratic work environment.  Additionally, research suggests this can be a very effective model for achieving a mission, being profit-oriented and being innovative.

For example, within Zappos specifically, CEO Tony Hsieh gives employees at all levels decision-making authority.  His customer service representatives do not use a script when speaking with customers. This is a very unorthodox approach, as most large companies have their call center employees use scripted responses, which is often a very impersonal process. This positively impacts both the bottom line of profit, as well as employee morale, positively contributing to the culture of Zappos, ultimately aligning with WorldBlu’s democratic principles (listed below).

  1. Purpose and Vision
    A democratic organization is clear about why it exists (its purpose) and where it is headed and what it hopes to achieve (its vision). These act as its true North, offering guidance and discipline to the organization’s direction.
  2. Transparency
    Say goodbye to the “secret society” mentality. Democratic organizations are transparent and open with employees about the financial health, strategy, and agenda of the organization.
  3. Dialogue + Listening
    Instead of the top-down monologue or dysfunctional silence that characterizes most workplaces, democratic organizations are committed to having conversations that bring out new levels of meaning and connection.
  4. Fairness + Dignity
    Democratic organizations are committed to fairness and dignity, not treating some people like “somebodies” and other people like “nobodies.”
  5. Accountability
    Democratic organizations point fingers, not in a blaming way but in a liberating way. They are crystal clear about who is accountable to whom and for what.
  6. Individual + Collective
    In democratic organizations, the individual is just as important as the whole, meaning employees are valued for their individual contribution as well as for what they do to help achieve the collective goals of the organization.
  7. Choice
    Democratic organizations thrive on giving employees meaningful choices.
  8. Integrity
    Integrity is the name of the game, and democratic companies have a lot of it. They understand that freedom takes discipline and also doing what is morally and ethically right.
  9. Decentralization
    Democratic organizations make sure power is appropriately shared and distributed among people throughout the organization.
  10. Reflection + Evaluation
    Democratic organizations are committed to continuous feedback and development and are willing to learn from the past and apply lessons to improve the future (WorldBlu 2012).

Zappos Family Core Values

“As we grow as a company, it has become more and more important to explicitly define the core values from which we develop our culture, our brand, and our business strategies.”

These are the ten core values that we live by:

  1.     Deliver WOW Through Service
  2.     Embrace and Drive Change
  3.     Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4.     Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5.     Pursue Growth and Learning
  6.     Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7.     Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8.     Do More With Less
  9.     Be Passionate and Determined
  10.     Be Humble (Zappos 2012)

Audience profile
This publication will target three groups.  First, the publication will serve the WorldBlu member organizations.  Secondly, the publication will target companies outside the WorldBlu democratic sphere (which now includes over 48 organizations), in hopes of recruiting more member companies to WorldBlu.  Ultimately, the hope here is to entice bureaucratic organizations to adopt and implement these democratic principles.   Finally, the publication will include Zappos current and prospective employees, as well as consumers of Zappos.  As a side note, Zappos was purchased by Amazon in 2009 and continues to operate independent of Amazon principles.

Interestingly, many of the organizations listed as “WorldBlu” are also on lists of “Best Places to Work”, such as Money Magazine and Forbes.  Interestingly, Amazon is currently not a WorldBlu member and not on the list of “Best Places to Work” by money magazine.

As the publication will address, these are not just democratic principles listed on the wall of a corporate conference room but a cultural change across all areas of an organization, as has been demonstrated with Zappos.

Purpose of publication
The purpose of the publication is to educate and inform on the democratic business practices, principles and culture of WorldBlu.  Specifically, Zappos will be used extensively, as a profile and case study of a company employing these principles and the resulting effect of those principles.  Interestingly, WorldBlu companies are statistically more profitable than their bureaucratic counterparts.

Zappos was listed on the 2011 list for Money Magazine “Best Places to Work”, #6 out of 100, (Google being #1) and #11 out of 100 in 2012 (CNN Money).  Most companies on the list had single digit growth and decline, whereas Zappos grew 37% in 2011 and 70% in 2012 (CNN Money).  Out of the top 100 listed companies, none came close to the 70% growth in 2012.  Google is the second highest growth on the list with 33%.
    
Frequency of publication
This publication will be weekly, having a new “topic”, as decision-making authority would be the first topic of democratic workplace discussion.

List of competition
Some of the opposition to WorldBlu concepts arise from misinformation from those who see the term “Democratic” as a political affiliation, not an organizational structure.  Some naysayers are those companies who are “top-down” and heavily rooted in bureaucratic systems, like much of our government.

Style issues
Pictures tell a thousand words, as do non-static or misinforming websites.  WorldBlu is a very static site which fails to tap into an important concept of visual and emotional persuading, otherwise known as Emotional Intelligence.

Information Challenges
The audience needs to understand this is not about a political view or a hidden agenda.  This is about breaking down barriers, specifically, those of corporate America and the old school bureaucratic style.  This is about running organizations in a more productive, intelligent and engaging manner, ultimately resulting in better service to all and increased profits.

Obstacles
The main obstacle would be to attempt to have a paradigm shift in bureaucratic thinking, throwing away previous beliefs about how organizations should be managed and run.  Additionally, educating people on these democratic principles could be an obstacle, since most people are not comfortable with change.

Overcoming Barriers
Provide content in a manner the targeted entities will be willing to accept.  Redefining the meaning of democracy, its purpose and how it will help improve our current state.

Citations

CNN Money.  “100 Best Companies to Work For 2011.”  Cable News Network, A Time Warner Company. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2011/full_list/ (accessed September 29, 2012).

CNN Money.  “100 Best Companies to Work For 2012.”  Cable News Network, A Time Warner Company.  http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2012/full_list/ (accessed September 29, 2012).

WorldBlu. “10 Principles of Organizational Democracy.”  WorldBlu.  http://www.worldblu.com/democratic-design/principles.php (accessed September 28, 2012).

Zappos.  “Zappos Family Core Values.”  Zappos.  http://about.zappos.com/our-unique-culture/zappos-core-values (accessed September 29, 2012).

Headlines & Hyperlinks

Headline: ECU-UNC: Little brother, big opportunity.
Problem: Unclear.  Not searchable.  Uninformative.
Solution: ECU Football embraces UNC opportunity.
Source:  Newsobserver.com, September 22, 2012, http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/09/22/2359566/ecu-unc-little-brother-big-opportunity.html

Headline: UNC caps rough week with stirring rally for Holden Thorp.
Problem: Uninformative. Not searchable.
Solution: UNC Chancellor Thorp resigns amid controversies.
Source: Newsobserver.com, September 22, 2012, http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/09/22/2359566/ecu-unc-little-brother-big-opportunity.html

Headline: UNC-CH sends Tami Hansbrough records to NCAA.
Problem: Unclear.  Not searchable.  Uninformative.
Solution: NCAA investigates Hansbrough UNC travel records, ties to son Tyler Hansbrough.
Source: Newsobserver.com, September 22, 2012, http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/09/21/2359286/unc-ch-sends-tami-hansbrough-records.html#storylink=cpy

Assignment 2: Find an article that would be good for using lists.

Headline: The Best Places For Business And Careers
Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2012/06/27/the-best-places-for-business/

Before paragraph:

Topping our 14th annual list of The Best Places for Business and Careers is Provo, Utah. The $16 billion economy is thriving largely on the back of Brigham Young University. The school provides a stabilizing presence as the third-largest private college by enrollment in the U.S. The school is also generating new jobs. During 2010 it ranked third in the numbers of start-ups produced through university research—13 in total—behind only the nearby University of Utah (18) and MIT (17).

Job growth was a robust 3% in the Provo metro in 2011, third best in the U.S. It enjoys—by far—the lowest violent crime rate in the U.S. and ranks tenth lowest overall for crime, including property crime. The metro population has doubled over the past two decades to 542,700.

After paragraph:

Topping our 14th annual list of The Best Places for Business and Careers is Provo, Utah, which boasts:

  • $16 billion economy, backed by Brigham Young University.
  • BYU, third-largest private college by enrollment in the U.S.
  • BYU, ranked third in the numbers of start-ups produced through university research.
  • Job growth was a robust 3% in the Provo metro in 2011, third best in the U.S.
  • Lowest violent crime rate in the U.S. and ranks tenth lowest overall for crime, including property crime.

Headline: The Best Places For Business And Careers
Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2012/06/27/the-best-places-for-business/

Before Paragraph:

Last year’s top city, Raleigh, N.C., dipped to No. 2 this year as living costs rose to 5% above the national average. Raleigh continues to be an attractive destination for companies with business costs 18% below the national average, according to Moody’s Analytics, and a highly educated workforce thanks to nearby schools like North Carolina State, Duke University and University of North Carolina.

After Paragraph:

Last year’s top city, Raleigh, N.C., continues to be an attractive destination:

  • Business costs 18% below the national average.
  • Highly educated workforce due to nearby universities.
  • Access to schools like North Carolina State, Duke University and University of North Carolina.

Assignment 3: Rewrite your headline for your week 2 writing sample.

Original: The Foundation of a Man
Revised: City’s Character Influenced by a Community

Assignment 4: Write three different headlines for story fragment.

Eight words: Yankees’ Pitcher Poised for Comeback After Knee Blowout.

Six words: Blown Knee is Opportunity for Pitcher.

Six for head, eight for subhead: Yankees’ Pitcher Begins Rehab to Mound: Indicating knee blowout from accident won’t end career.

The Foundation of a Man (revised)

Audience:  Civic leaders at an Urban Development Conference.

Abstract:  How a community can shape the values of an individual, more specifically, the essential influence that philanthropic and civic leaders can have on a specific community.

Key Words:  Civic minded communities, Kansas City values, hard working, attributes of a philanthropic city, and urban redevelopment.

Someone asked me the other day, if who I am today was influenced by where I was raised?  At first, it seemed like a straightforward question, until I thought more about it.  My first reaction, I was positively influenced by my parents and close friends. Then I considered another viewpoint; specifically, what positive influential roles a community might have on my development, as well.  Some of those influences were mid-western values, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

When I tell people I am from Kansas City, they inevitably ask if I grew up on a farm, have seen a twister and invariably make some reference to the Wizard of Oz.  I did not grow up on a farm, have no idea how to milk a cow, and wouldn’t know the difference between one tractor and another.  In contrast, those whom have traveled to or lived in Kansas City have a much different view, one representative of a major metropolitan city with suburban sprawl, vibrant downtown, rich history and eclectic culture.

For those unfamiliar, Kansas City is best recognized for its fountains; trickling, dancing, colorful showpieces in a city with so many artistic masterpieces it is known as the City of Fountains.  The City is also known for the Country Club Plaza, a jewel of Spanish architecture and a regional shopping mecca.  The Country Club Plaza maintains a cultural courtesy of pedestrians first and automobiles second, without the traditional stoplights and traffic calming devices attempted at modern day shopping centers.  Topped off with foot-tapping Jazz and BBQ, the city proves that the very essence of the city’s culture is rooted even in the most refined of places.  Interestingly, several major corporations, foundations and developers have played a critical role in creating many of these wonderful, community-congregating places in the city.

Specifically, one globally recognized company, Hallmark Cards, has a strong focus of corporate citizenship, resulting in some of Kansas City’s unique attributes.  Additionally, many outside the area are unfamiliar with the Kaufmann Foundation, a world-renowned entrepreneurial foundation, which has been integral in helping companies, as well as local governments, link their corporate citizenship to the community by providing entrepreneurial funding and promoting corporate social responsibility. These attributes set a foundation, which hasn’t changed in over 50 years, a result of perseverance, hard work, philanthropy and proud citizens.

It wasn’t until I moved to a different region of the country, that I truly understood how people and communities differ.  In the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to live and work in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and recently North Carolina.  Before living in other areas of the United States, I might have believed my parents were paramount regarding who I am today.  In hindsight, I realized my parents had some influence, but it was also the City and community that influenced who I am today.

In contrast, living in Michigan, there was a strong union presence, with ‘us versus them’ attitudes that contrasted with Kansas City, a place that is very pro-business.  I noticed immediately a different mentality where workers felt a right of entitlement.  What I once knew as sense of community, philanthropy, and hard work, was soon replaced by a “work less” mentality.  It wasn’t until I came to understand unions that I discovered how vastly different work culture and work ethic can be between two places.  These two contrasting places demonstrated how people can be and probably are, a result of the communities they grow up in, as was the case from my upbringing in Kansas City.

In Kansas City, people are hardworking, caring, mindful, intelligent, entrepreneurial and civic-minded.  Corporate leaders from Kansas City, as well as their organizations, have been recognized for their integrity, work ethic, philanthropy and entrepreneurial spirit.  Last year, Kansas City ranked number two in top cities for young entrepreneurs under 30.  This is ranking included notable entrepreneurial cities such as San Francisco, Austin and Boston.  Kansas City is also philanthropic leader, for which other cities have modeled their efforts.  A reputable philanthropic ranking, Charity Navigator, listed Kansas City as the second most philanthropic city in the country.  This is part of what gives Kansas City so much of its character, as it is truly representative of the American dream.

If we are influenced and byproducts of companies and communities, then all individuals, communities, governments and civic leaders should be involved in helping to shape their own communities.  Many major metropolitan cities have seen urban sprawl, as a result of inner city neglect, resulting in a loss of community and culture.  In Kansas City, Hallmark Cards used its corporate citizenship to influence the surrounding communities.  Hallmark Cards has a corporate culture rooted in family, integrity, connectedness and fun, which they were able to integrate into the surrounding communities of Kansas City.  Hallmark’s corporate headquarters was developed on a site in midtown that was once a vast hillside covered in gaudy billboards, a blight on the City.  The resulting development is Crown Center, home to Hallmark Cards, as well as a popular place for families to spend time shopping, ice-skating and playing in the interactive fountain.

It was these positive attributes (philanthropy, entrepreneurship, family, integrity, fun, hard work) of the corporations and foundations of Kansas City, which shaped the character of communities and ultimately the city.  By extension, it was the City as a whole, which influenced and shaped much of who I am today.  Therefore, if communities can shape an individual, as Kansas City shaped me, then maybe a paradigm shift in thinking for a community is a logical place to start for all of us.

Remembering Summers and The Foundation of a Man

Remembering Summers Critique

Hi Carolyn,

I truly enjoyed reading your piece, Remembering Summers, about growing up in St. Louis, alongside the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.  Your writing demonstrated emotion and passion, which I admire in a writer.  Having grown up in Kansas City, which is similar to St. Louis, I found many parallels between our childhood environments.  The story provided a fair amount of detail about your experiences, which I felt helped me understand St. Louis, as well as visualize the specific area you were raised. Visualizations are critical to bringing a story to life, ultimately allowing the reader to see themselves in the story described.

Before I get into my “minor” suggestions, please understand I am not a professional writer.  All my comments are purely a different perspective of your story.  This is the beauty of a critique.  It’s not whether or not the writing is correct, but merely another vantage point seen through the eyes of a completely different reader.  Additionally, I have a personal history of the area you describe, having grown up in Kansas City, therefore I might have an unfair bias and greater understanding than someone who lives in San Francisco and has never visited St. Louis.

Critique:

I noticed fairly early in the story, there was an opportunity for you to use more adjectives to really describe what you experienced, which I felt could have brought some of the story to life.  Also, there was an opportunity to condense the sentence structure, as there were run-on sentences, by paying close attention to the use of commas or lack of commas.  Kate Turabian talks this use of appropriate sentence structure in A Manual for Writers.

Lastly, I noticed if a few cases you didn’t finish your thoughts and many of your thoughts were in passive tense.  As writers this can be easy to fall victim to, as we know what we are saying, but communicating those thoughts to others who don’t, is challenging.

Passive Tense Examples:

“This northern part of St. Louis County is where I grew up.”

Consider: I grew up in the northern part of St. Louis County.

 “The route to the old seminary was ridden so often, I can still clearly see in my memory the streets and houses along the way.”

Consider: I rode the route to the old seminary often.  I can still…

“There were two large windows in the corner of the room that I shared with my sister.”

Consider:  My sister and I shared two large windows in the corner of the room.

“In the space that formed between the windows and our beds was a low square table covered in beige vinyl.”

Consider: A low square table was covered in beige vinyl.  It was wedged in the space between the windows and our beds.

 Example:

“The Missouri River meets the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Missouri.  In the final northward loop of the river is a large area of flat river-bottom land.”

Try to think about how you might write this to a reader who has never been there or seen the intersecting of these two rivers.  Also, this is your first sentence, the “attention grabber” and I was left wondering why it was significant.  In reading the story there was some significant symbolism of the river to your life, yet it was hard to find this in your story.  You might have considered a shorter sentence; “I grew up on or I spent much of my childhood playing alongside the muddy, rocky Missouri river. ….”  You have three sentences I felt could have been condensed to one more succinct sentence, while using more descriptive words.  Alternatively, if there is symbolism in the river, to your life, which I believe there may have been, you should consider this in the remainder of the writing.

Example:

“Near an old Jesuit seminary there was a peaceful spot that was not officially a park, but a place that many people went to walk along the river bluffs.”

In this particular sentence there was an opportunity to describe the seminary in more detail, besides just being old, which helps the reader visualize the place you are describing.  Also, you mentioned this place was “peaceful.”    What was peaceful about it and was there a particular reason you were seeking a peaceful place?

Example:

“As kids we spent our summers on our bikes. The route to the old seminary was ridden so often, I can still clearly see in my memory the streets and houses along the way. Riding our bikes out to the bluffs was one way we escaped the house and the heat.”

What appears to be special about this sentence is spending your summers riding up to the seminary, enjoying the scenery along the way, with the ultimate goal of arriving at the bluffs to escape the heat.  Consider rewriting this more as I stated it, while using adjectives to describe the actual journey, the historic St. Louis homes, the beautiful riverside and the water cooling bluffs.   Think about sharing what was so special about this place you traveled frequently and why were you trying to escape your home (you referenced this in the story)?

Example:

“Summers were hot and humid”

Consider the additions of adjectives, beyond “hot and humid,” as I have personally experienced a St. Louis summer, and they are painfully unbearable.  Hot and Humid gives no reference point and leaves it up to the reader to interpret this based on his or her own personal definition of the environment you described.

Example:

“We slept in what we called summer sheets made of very thin, almost diaphanous fabric.”

Think about sheer, flimsy and paper-thin, instead of diaphanous.  Also, elaborate on what this heat meant to you.  In our readings and in the Writers Manual, both suggest using words more universal recognized when possible (i.e smaller words).  I would not assume all people reading know the definition of “diaphanous.”

Example:

“There were two large windows in the corner of the room that I shared with my sister.  We would remake our beds in the summer so the head of the bed was closest to the windows…”

Also, there was much written about the “windows” as a place to escape the heat, though you mentioned never really finding relief as you “mostly remember moving in and out of sleep, dreaming of being hot and waiting for the sun to come up.”   This is some irony, as you dream of being hot wait for the sun to come up.  What is the real issue here, escaping the heat or was it getting out of the home, as you mentioned, “escaping home” at one point in your story.

Example:

“Virgin Mary, Blacks, Music, transporting to some foreign land.”

In this part of the story I felt you could have connected with and expanded on was the symbolism you mentioned with the vinyl table.  You mentioned all the things you had on it, references to the Virgin Mary and transporting to another place.  What was the symbolism with all of these things?  It appeared there was more to this story than a vinyl table with a bunch of 12-year old items on it.

Example:

“When I turned 12, my parents gave me an AM FM clock radio that I kept on that table next to the altar. AM radio signals were strong and sometimes at night I cold pick up radio stations from Detroit or New Orleans……”

I had a difficult time reading this paragraph, as it really seemed to hit on many different things; being a teenager, favorite hangouts, prejudice towards a black neighbor, the danger of the river and your fear of its power or your fear or water.  Try to ask yourself what am I trying to communicate in this paragraph and what is most important, ultimately making the biggest impact on the story.

The focus of the paragraph could have been about the importance of the black family during this era and your views of blacks as gifted musicians.  Or you could have talked about your fear you felt of the river and what this really meant to you.  It is important to consider why the information is important.  Many authors write visually from personal experiences, John Grisham as an example.

Example:

“My family was not the outdoor type” and “we never went boating or fishing on the river even though it was so close.”

This statement was confusing, since most of your story talks about being outside at the river bluffs and why did your family never go boating or fishing?  Was it commonplace to boat and fish? Why did your family never do this?   This seemed random and you should consider explaining what is the relevance of this statement to the story.  Were you not a close family and did this shape who you are today?

Example:

“I cannot remember a time we spent time as a family near the river for recreation, but when I think of my youth, I think of the river.  It was my destination as I grew and became independent.”

Think about your use of commas and how you might have condensed these sentences into a more succinct point.  Also, within the sentence you mention “time” twice which doesn’t read as well as if you had used it once.

Suggestion:  I spent much of my time growing up, playing at the river, without my family, as it was my place of independence.  You need to explain why your family didn’t spend time together and why this is important, since you clearly feel strongly about this issue.

Also, Was it your whole family, you or just your parents?  Also, I realize this is a story about you but maybe a mention of your family (brothers, sisters and parents) could help articulate a better understanding of your childhood environment.

Closing thoughts:

On a final note:  the story was a joy to read and it submerged me into your views of lack of family, air-conditioning and fantasy travel.  Most importantly, I really feel like I garnered a deep understanding of you, where you grew up, while experiencing many of your most significant memories, both happy and sad.  To me this story was not about a hot and humid town, but a girl’s creative imagination and her ability to overcome great adversity.

Here is the original piece, so readers can see what I am critiquing:

Remembering Summers

The Missouri River meets the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis, Missouri.  In the final northward loop of the river is a large area of flat river-bottom land.  This northern part of St. Louis County is where I grew up.  It was only five miles from our house to a point above the river that we used to ride our bikes to in the summer.  Near an old Jesuit seminary, there was a peaceful spot that was not officially a park, but a place that many people went to walk along the river bluffs.  As kids we spent our summers on our bikes.  The route to the old seminary was ridden so often, I can still clearly see in my memory the streets and houses along the way.  Riding our bikes out to the bluffs was one way we escaped the house and the heat.

Summers were hot and humid.  My mother was opposed to spending money on air conditioning until late summer when her hay fever kicked in and she was uncomfortable.  Summer nights were often long and still.  We slept in what we called summer sheets made of very thin, almost diaphanous fabric.  The windows in our house were very modern for the time, floor to ceiling glass, but only the bottom 18 inches opened to let in the breeze.  There were two large windows in the corner of the room that I shared with my sister.  We would remake our beds in the summer, so the head of the bed was closest to the open windows.  Sometimes we would sleep outside on the patio in our thinnest nightgowns and just a summer sheet, hoping to catch any breeze that might be stirring.  Mostly I remember moving in and out of sleep, dreaming of being hot, waiting for the sun to come up.

In the space that formed between the windows and our beds was a low square table covered in beige vinyl.  On this table we would place our books before falling asleep.  There was a floodlight on the corner of the house just outside our windows.  My parents kept it on until they went to bed.  My sister and I could read by that light.  She would often fall asleep before the light went out, but I would read until the sudden darkness signaled that my dad would soon be looking in to check on us before going to his bed.  By the time he looked in, I would appear to be asleep.

I kept a small altar to the Virgin Mary on that table.  I had a small statue of Mary, a couple of votive candles and a vase of dried flowers.  I created the altar not out of any desire to pray, but it was easier to create it than to not create it.  I felt that the nuns would know just by looking at me if one did not exist.

When I turned 12, my parents gave me an AM FM clock radio that I kept on that table next to the altar. AM radio signals were strong and sometimes at night I cold pick up radio stations from Detroit or New Orleans.  I loved listening to the music and the accents of the announcers.  At 12, I felt transported to some distant and foreign land.  That summer in 1967, as I listened to the news of the riots in Detroit, was the first time I realized what racism meant.  Up until this point, my only contact with black people was through that radio and the music of the Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and so many others.  I thought black people must be gifted with some special talent that white people only imitated.  Our neighborhood was all white lower middle class suburbia and no one exhibited any special talent.

By the time we were teenagers and driving, one of our favorite hangouts was Sioux Passage Park. There were picnic and playground areas for families.  If you were adventurous, you could take the narrow paths down to the river and swim in the muddy water.  I had grown from riding my bike with my brothers and sisters to the bluffs, to hanging out with my friends on the riverbank.  When I was 17, one black family had moved to our area and their kids, Darwin and Jean went to my high school.  At the park, we would generate stares as we gathered our bags and blankets to head to the river, a bunch of white kids and one black boy.  Along the water past the line of trees were beaches.  Not like beaches along the North Carolina Coast, these river beaches were rock, mud and woody debris, changing with each rainstorm and rise and fall of the river. The current could sometimes be very swift and we would not go into the water at those times.  Actually, I never really went into the water, not any deeper than my knees. I have never learned to swim.  The power of the water scared me, but I loved watching it move.

My family was not the outdoor type. We never went boating or fishing on the river even though it was so close.  I cannot remember a time we spent time as a family near the river for recreation, but when I think of my youth, I think of the river.  It was my destination as I grew and became independent.  The summers were hot and humid, but the constant and relentless power of the water brought me peace and let me breathe.

My target audience for this piece would have to be my high school classmates.

Abstract:  A personal reflection of summers and growing up near the point where the Missouri River meets the Mississippi River.

Tags:

Missouri River

Sioux Passage Park

Summer heat

Critique of my writing, The Foundation of a Man

My sentence structure was a bit unclear and wordy at times.  Here are some examples:

Example:

“However, it is not the attributes specifically, but the pride and integrity of the people in Kansas City, which had significant influence on who I am today. More specifically, people are hardworking, caring, mindful, intelligent, entrepreneurial and civic-minded.”

Instead, maybe:  The pride and integrity of the people of Kansas City had a significant influence on me.  Specifically, people are…

Example:

“Zappos is currently in the process of transferring their entire corporation from beautiful Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas) to downtown Las Vegas, arguably one of the last places one would consider for a  “community and family-friendly” place.”

Instead: Zappos is transferring their entire corporation…

Example:

“Kansas City saw this with Hallmark Cards, which is a structural, cultural and foundational entity in Kansas City, having strong influence on the city’s community attributes, instilling Hallmark’s core values of family, integrity, connectedness and fun.”

Instead: Hallmark Cards is a structural, cultural and foundational entity in Kansas City.  Hallmark’s core values of family, integrity, connectedness and fun have influenced the city.

The Foundation of a Man

Audience:  Civic leaders at an Urban Development Conference.

Abstract:  How a community can shape the values of an individual, more specifically, the essential influence that philanthropic and civic leaders can have on a specific community.

Key Words:  Civic minded communities, Kansas City values, hard working, attributes of a philanthropic city, and urban redevelopment.

Someone asked me the other day, if who I am today was influenced by where I was raised?  At first, it seemed like a straightforward question, until I thought more about it.  My first reaction, I was influenced by my parents, family and friends. Then I considered another viewpoint; specifically, what influential roles a community might have on my development, as well.

When I tell people I am from Kansas City, they inevitably ask if I grew up on a farm, have seen a twister and invariably make some reference to the Wizard of Oz.  I did not grow up on a farm, have no idea how to milk a cow, and wouldn’t know the difference between one tractor and another.  In contrast, those whom have traveled to or lived in Kansas City have a much different view, one representative of a major metropolitan city with suburban sprawl, vibrant downtown, rich history and eclectic culture.

For those unfamiliar, Kansas City is best recognized for its fountains; trickling, dancing, colorful showpieces in a city with so many artistic masterpieces it is known as the City of Fountains.  In the center of the City is the Country Club Plaza, a jewel of Spanish architecture and a regional shopping mecca, that maintains its cultural courtesy of pedestrians first, automobiles second, without the traditional stop lights and traffic calming devices attempted at modern day shopping centers.  Topped off with foot-tapping Jazz and BBQ, the city proves that the very essence of the city’s culture is rooted even in the most refined of places.  Additionally, Hallmark Cards, Sprint and the Kaufmann Foundation, a world-renowned entrepreneurial organization, are just some of the catalysts bringing people together as a community. These attributes set a foundation, which hasn’t changed in over 50 years, and is a result of perseverance, hard work, philanthropy and proud citizens.

It wasn’t until I moved to a different region of the country, that I truly understood how much people and communities differ.  In the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to live and work in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and recently North Carolina.  Before living in other areas of the United States, I might have believed my parents were paramount regarding who I am today.  In hindsight, I realized my parents had some influence, but it was the City that influenced who I am today.

In Michigan, there was a strong union presence, with ‘us versus them’ attitudes that contrasted with Kansas City, a place that is very pro-business.  I noticed immediately a different mentality where workers felt a right of entitlement.  What I once knew as sense of community, philanthropy, and hard work, was soon replaced by a “work less” mentality.  It wasn’t until I came to understand unions that I discovered how vastly different work culture and work ethic can be between two places.  These two contrasting places demonstrated how people can be and probably are, a result of the communities they grow up in, as was the case from my upbringing in Kansas City.

However, it is not the attributes specifically, but the pride and integrity of the people in Kansas City, which had significant influence on who I am today. More specifically, people are hardworking, caring, mindful, intelligent, entrepreneurial and civic-minded.  Kansas City is a leader, from a philanthropic standpoint, for which other cities follow.  There is a sense of neighborhood community, as people actually come out of their houses to socialize and hard work is a way of life.  This is part of what gives Kansas City so much of its character (strong work ethic, community, and family), as it is truly representative of the American dream.  Kansas City is the heartland of our country; it is a melting pot of people from all parts of the United States.  And, marketing executives agree, as Kansas City has long been considered one of the best places for testing new products (recently Google Fiber).

     If we are influenced and byproducts of where we come from, then individuals, communities, governments and civic leaders should all have a vested interest.  Instead of moving away from the problems, there is a continued need to invest in our communities.  This is pivotal, as communities can be strong influencers of families.   A specific example of this would be Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos, who is a pioneer in “community” thinking. He has demonstrated one man can change a culture within an organization and that cultural change is contagious throughout the organization, ultimately flowing into the surrounding community.

Zappos is currently in the process of transferring their entire corporation from beautiful Henderson, Nevada (a suburb of Las Vegas) to downtown Las Vegas, arguably one of the last places one would consider for a  “community and family-friendly” place.  Hsieh truly believes he can transform a community, city, and state.

Kansas City saw this with Hallmark Cards, which is a structural, cultural and foundational entity in Kansas City, having strong influence on the city’s community attributes, instilling Hallmark’s core values of family, integrity, connectedness and fun.  Crown Center, which is home to Hallmark Corporation, is a popular place for families to spend time shopping, ice-skating and playing in the interactive fountain.  However, it was once a vast hillside covered in gaudy billboards, a blight on the City, which was redeveloped for Hallmark. If communities can shape an individual, as Kansas City shaped me, then maybe a paradigm shift in thinking for a community is a logical place to start for all of us.

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