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When life gives you a rain delay, don’t waste it

You need another sports analogy like you need another meeting, but bear with me.

Brent Willett, CEcD, is executive director of Iowa's Cultivation Corridor.

With the Cubs and the Indians knotted at six runs a piece entering the 10th inning of last night’s unassailable World Heyward Series Game 7, a steady lake-effect drizzle turned into a heavy rain. Umpire Crew Chief John Hirschbeck ordered players beginning to take the field for the extra frame back into their dugouts. Rain delay. 

As the Indians’ ground crew unrolled the tarp across the infield, 45,000 fans in the ballpark and 40 million television viewers groaned. 

Jason Heyward saw an opportunity.

Following the delay announcement, Cubs and Indians players initially settled in for their typical rain delay routines -- mostly waiting it out in the dugout, shooting the breeze. Heyward, the Cubs’ maligned right fielder, he of the giant contract ($184 million) and the underwhelming postseason performance (.200 batting average, including a benching), called a players-only meeting. As Indians players sat contentedly in their dugout, the Cubs dugout emptied. When word of the meeting reached the Cubs bullpen in the outfield, the full battery of Cubs pitchers and catchers sprinted across the field and down the stairs to join the meeting. 

The meeting has become an instant a piece of legend and lore for a sport with no shortage of it. What exactly Heyward, who is normally a quiet man and not known as a bombastic clubhouse leader type, said to his 24 teammates in the cramped weight room in the basement of Progressive Field is not totally clear. What is clear is that when a Cubs team that, in the previous inning, had watched its hitherto untouchable closer give up a game-tying, ballpark-shaking home run took the field about 25 minutes later, they were a different team than before the delay. 

The Cubs promptly scored two runs in the top of the 10th and held on for the victory in arguably the greatest baseball game ever played. While white-hot hitting Ben Zobrist deservedly won the MVP, a case can be made that the instrumental leadership role Heyward played was just as important, despite his dreadful on-field performance.

What’s the lesson here for economic and community development leaders and stakeholders? When life or circumstance gives us a rain delay, we mustn’t waste it. 

Economic development and community development work can be painfully tedious, delay-ridden and uncertain. While the men and women who work to attract new investment, people and amenities into our communities can control for much of what’s necessary from their city, state or region’s perspective to ensure project success, ultimately, they are playing in a game of reaction amid often rapidly changing circumstances. The gift of a pause disguised as an obstruction -- when a capital investment project slows as the company awaits board approval or an infrastructure project faces additional review -- allows the professionals working the project on the community or regional side to capitalize on the unexpected luxury of time to plot next steps and foment a plan to win.

While serving as White House chief of staff for President-elect Obama in 2008, now-Chicago Mayor Rahm Immanuel was credited with coining the phrase "Never let a crisis go to waste." While an economic or community development project rain delay may not necessarily represent a crisis, positively exploiting one can be the difference between success and failure for today’s jobs projects. The teams of economic and community development leaders who see opportunity for an injection of leadership and calm into a pause during an otherwise chaotic or fast-moving project’s life span position their communities to win more than those who choose to sit in the dugout.

Contact Brent Willett:

BrentWillett.org | 515-360-1732 bwillett@cultivationcorridor.org | @brent_willett | LinkedIn.com/in/brentwillett



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