In 1964 a Harvard professor named Robert Rosenthal did a classroom experiment in San Francisco. His goal was to find out how children’s performance was tied to the expectations of their teachers, and to do this he took a standard IQ test, dressed it as a fancy new brain examination tool and gave it to the students. He then told the teachers the test had a very special ability to predict significant intellectual advancement and randomly chose about 20 percent of the students to “bloom.” As their teachers expected, at the end of the school year the randomly selected bloomers did outperform their classmates.
Since 2007, I’ve had the good fortune to work at the South Valley Economic Development Center and watch the community kitchen there expand dramatically. In 2007, we had eight food entrepreneurs using the kitchen; today we have a community of over 60, with twice as many working to get their products ready to begin cooking there.
That word “community” is key. In large part, we attribute the growth of this community of entrepreneurs to peer pressure and support. Immediately obvious is peer support: clients share buyer networks; they share employees before they can hire folks full-time: they share design services and distribution networks. They help each other succeed in a very tangible way.
Less obvious, but perhaps even more importantly, the community kitchen in the South Valley has proven that grandma with a great recipe and supportive family can sell her chile sauce statewide. It’s not some distant feel-good CNN story—it happens here, and time and time again, the other folks see that happening and get inspired. To bring this idea home, how might your life have been different if your next-door neighbor had built a successful tortilla-, salsa- or catering company when you were a child? Would your mom have been more likely to take her trademark family recipe to market?
The nonprofit that helped start the South Valley Kitchen is also the parent nonprofit for the TEDxABQ movement in Albuquerque. Entirely volunteer-driven, TEDxABQ spends months looking for people who have broken the mold and done something remarkable, and then helps them hone their story to a short, powerful talk. TEDxABQ then has a day where those 15–20 speakers tell their story from the stage to an audience that started at 200 people back in 2009 and will reach over 2,500 local attendees in 2013.
Just like the community of entrepreneurs in the kitchen, the TEDxABQ community highlights the stories of people who have made it big—people whose lives consist of more than just working eight hours a day and then going home and watching TV, people who make the extra effort, work the nights and the weekends, to create something bigger then themselves.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about New Mexico’s government-dependent culture, and with over 20 percent of our jobs dependent on federal government services (before healthcare and local government), that is a problem. The expectations from peers and support staff in the community kitchen, and the expectations at a TEDxABQ conference are not to put in your 20 years, get a gold watch, and be the status quo—we expect each other to dream big and then turn those dreams into a reality.
At the South Valley community kitchen, those dreams are realized with increasing numbers of friends and neighbors of entrepreneurs getting excited about their family recipes and taking the leap themselves, and that’s proven with real job-creation numbers. At TEDxABQ the evidence is more anecdotal but equally powerful. We hear about curricula being developed in Washington State using TEDxABQ ideas, the new collaborations between healthcare and local farmers, new building designs that come out of architectural TEDxABQ talks, and other exciting things being built out of the inspiration that comes from seeing the best of our entrepreneurs on stage.
As a society, we need to expect more of ourselves and each other. By supporting the communities and events that highlight successful individuals and organizations, we can change our expectations and create an entrepreneurial culture. Together we can be the change that will power New Mexico’s economy in this new century.