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Saba Long

(co)lab — Atlanta region must think big, start small and move fast

By Saba Long

In his book “Political Ideals,” British philosopher Bertrand Russell opined political and social institutions should “encourage creativeness rather than possessiveness” and should “embody a spirit of reverence between human beings.”

These same themes are what make a city competitive and a corporate culture envied.  As such, it is no surprise the broad strokes of Russell’s thoughts were painted time and time again throughout Leadership Atlanta’s recent, inaugural (co)lab summit on tackling innovation,  education and talent acquisition and retention in the Atlanta region.

Politically, the past four years has brought leadership changes in our state and capital city’s executive offices. Atlanta has experienced tremendous hardships leading up to and during the transition of power including substantial reductions in tax revenue collections, a too-big-to-fail pension predicament and a nationally recognized public education crisis.

Similarly, at the Gold Dome public education, revenue generation and transportation infrastructure have been the principal points of concern for the current administration.

Speaking on a panel about attracting and retaining talent, Jim Turley, retired chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, commented: “At the end of the day, you have to be a winning organization – whether you are a company or a city.”

I would also add: “or a state.”

Winning organizations personify the imagination and inclusion that Russell spoke of over a century ago. Corporations such as Google, Facebook and Costco are known for practicing these entrepreneurial type values. And now more than ever, so are civic leaders.

It’s why Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has invested $100 million into revitalizing downtown Freemont in Las Vegas through local, hand-to-hand community building.

At times, metro Atlanta operates under a nirvana fallacy, in that we compare these seemingly perfect institutions and lament that we are not quite there yet.

Whether it is the commerce and density of New York City or the public transportation successes of Beijing and Europe, we constantly compare our weaknesses to others perceived strengths. Our competitors are experiencing the same issues we are – homelessness, education reform, a shrinking middle class and a lack of affordable housing. These issues are not specific to this region; they are global in nature.

If (co)lab accomplished just one thing, it was that our business, civic and government leaders must stop operating in a mindlessly global and hopelessly local mindset.

An old political campaign trick is to operate as the insurgent, the underdog. This same thought process is used in the startup world – think big, start small, move fast.

That is exactly the thought process this city, state and region needs to practice in order become a winning organization.  Truly tackling our handicaps require collaboration, confidence and courage.

This recent summit cultivated the collaboration. We now need to find the confidence and courage to win big.

Saba Long

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.


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