Brentwood Isn’t Bad, But…

I live in Brentwood, TN. Yes, without a doubt, it’s a fine place to live, even a good place. There are lots of things I like about it… parks, convenience, safety. This article, from the Tennessean, got me thinking the other day.

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HOLD ON, background… I work at Rustici Software, a small company that creates software related to online training. We are a relatively typical small software company in that we’re creating software and finding a market for it. A part of that is understanding what the state of the software market is today and considering how it will/should evolve. We’re doing that all the time, as are countless small software companies. In fact, so many companies are innovating in this regard all the time that one of the leading business books relates precisely to this topic, The Innovator’s Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen.

Full disclosure, I don’t actually read very much. When I get a book, I read pieces, and then I go largely based on the insights of folks that I respect. More specifically, my business partner Mike reads books, we discuss them, and I use his own words from other books he’s read in discussing the more recent book with him. (This might be a slight exaggeration, or it might not…) As I understand it, one of the key tenets of this tome relates to established companies. They have created a product that has achieved significant adoption, but they are completely unable to see the fundamental innovation that will render their product insignificant. This innovation is a huge opportunity for the up-and-comer, and a huge threat for the established company. (Think about how the iPod has rendered the Walkman moot.)

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So, back to the original thought, the Brentwood Commission Candidate article… I was bothered. Why? I was bothered by the homogeny of it. No, not the typical “lack of diversity” angle that is so commonplace in discussions of Brentwood. I grew up in a community that lacked a certain level of racial diversity, but I have no prejudiced bone in my body. My mom in particular espouses equity as the most fundamental of values, and translates to how I treat my children. More racial diversity would be welcomed, but it’s not a fundamental bother for me.

I’m bothered in the article and in general by the broader candidacies for the Brentwood Commissioner position because the thoughts expressed by the candidates vary so little. Every single one of them has to say…

  • I love Brentwood
  • I hate taxes and have no intent to raise them
  • I love parks and the library
  • I don’t like traffic, but am unwilling to commit funds to mass transit

Ugh. Seriously, one of the current commissioners, Joe Reagan, gave this answer when prodded with several specific questions about Brentwood Towne Center:

Even though I have not answered all of your questions, I want you to know that I will work with any group or an individual who has the land, financial ability and can produce a viable product.

Yeah, uh, thanks for that.

This is what I fear for Brentwood. I fear that certain residents of Brentwood believe that they have built something that is just right, that they would like keep it just like it is. I fear complacency; I fear delusions of perfection (like Williamson County Schools have, but that’s another post).

At work, we’ve built a product and a reputation that make us an indisputable market leader (admittedly in a niche market). Instead of milking the proverbial cow, we’re spending our time trying to create products and concepts that innovate on top of that leadership position and in some cases, even undercut it.

I have no doubt that Brentwood needs to do exactly the same thing. The city needs to recognize the things it’s doing well while at the same time recognizing the areas in which it could be far greater. Some of these things will carry substantial cost. Some attempts at greatness will fail. Some choices made by city leadership may offend certain constituents. And that’s OK. Brentwood needs to be prepared to innovate in a way that occasionally threatens some of the things that it believes are fine and good, in hopes of making them great.

So, for my city of Brentwood, where I’m going to live for a long time, I’m looking for leadership that is willing to offend and willing to change. My city seems to have an exceptional affection for the status quo. I do not.

Now, on to what to do about it… Since I’m unwilling to put forth the effort required to campaign for such a position, I will merely voice my opinion here and in a vote. I’ll vote for Devin McClendon because I know him personally. I know that Devin is committed to pushing forward Towne Center, and I believe this is one of the first paths Brentwood should be taking to improve itself. Devin’s never indicated to me that he thinks taxes should be raised or that he has any views as radical as mine, but Devin is willing to think for himself.

And secondly, I’ll read up a bit more on Rhea Little. While I have a bit of bitterness that he spells his name Rhea and pronounces it Ray (my daughter Oakley’s middle name is Rhea, with the proper pronunciation Ray-ah), I will get past that to read more of what he’s said and written. None of the candidates can openly state they are going to depart too far from the status quo, but I read into Rhea Little’s comments to see a bit of hope.

Thanks for taking the time to read my political rant. Trust me, these will be few and far between. Given that I don’t even read the news, it’s hard to come up with much political fodder, although I could just listen to my neighbor Phil Valentine on the way home if you all tell me I should do more political commentary.

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