The Memphis business brand may be so broad that it is too big to grasp in the world of venture capital, startups and site consultants.
The general public knows Elvis and FedEx and Stax and barbecue. But the city is more. Such is the nature of branding and identity.
Perhaps a more effective way to go about finding the essence of the success of the banner “made in Memphis” businesses defined by Memphis and which have in turn defined Memphis is to go within ourselves.
By that, we mean knowing our history beyond a babble of brand names we throw at visitors and without calling a week-long conference to define how we will all do exactly what those business leaders did.
Our pursuit of a vital and robust local economy all too often lacks the critical thinking skills we find in such need in our schools.
The story of businesses made in Memphis isn’t someone with an original idea who came out of their office after intense study, said it once and the world beat a path to his or her doorstep.
Their business plans were ridiculed and revised, and rejected again and revised again. They had help. They had advice from others in business who were willing to tell them things they didn’t want to hear but needed to hear.
And they struggled even after they got their enterprises going.
For an idea of the path Kemmons Wilson, the founder of Holiday Inns, took and the mechanics of how it came to be, read David Halberstam’s book “The Fifties.”
And keep in mind, his struggle and success was a product of the times. These are different times. In some cases we call the same things by different names. But in other ways, you can’t do things the same way these business giants did them.
Many of them didn’t have offices in business “incubators” and they weren’t assigned a “mentor” through a formal program. But they did have help and there were times when they must have felt completely alone.
Innovation requires strength. While we applaud and cover efforts that seek out innovation and try to make the path to market easier there is an element of this that can’t be mentored or taught.
We think a key element in promoting innovation outside a formal process is the continuing discussions many parents have with their children as they prepare to leave Memphis for college or careers after college.
And we genuinely mean the discussion because in the reasons our young adults give for leaving Memphis are some of the answers we need. And in the hopes and real world wisdom of parents is the counsel that can infuse our more formal efforts to build a better Memphis with the idea that the best innovation is that which also helps to build and change a city that is home.