This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Ten!

Broken Bow, Neb.

When considering the fact that we are finishing up our last full week here in Broken Bow, it is hard to believe how fast the summer went. Our time spent here has been so great – we have met so many amazing members of this community as well as Custer County as a whole. Our projects have wrapped up nicely and we are excited to be able to give some final updates.

“This serviceship gave me insight I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten into the world of local government, economic development and the importance of small town innovation in rural Nebraska.”



Our Sturgis project wrapped up nicely with banners hung up around town at various businesses as well as the park, the Barn, and the entrances into Broken Bow. These banners were obtained through Coca-Cola and Budweiser due to those companies being official sponsors of the Sturgis bike rally. Our Sturgis cards have been distributed and we decided to place more at the Visitors Center or the Barn as well as a water station/ bike repair tent that pops up in a restaurants parking lot.

Some of our final progress on the YMCA project has been getting key community members on board for a YMCA activities director recruited to come to the county. We have met with Optimist Club – the current group that is heading up most of the youth sports. They were excited about having someone to lead these programs, though they are still happy to volunteer their time to simply help.

Diamond Youth Organization (DYO) will be contacted in a few weeks once baseball season is over. They will be the last group to reach out to before things can really be moved forward. On July 25th we had the opportunity to tour Adam’s Land and Cattle. This was an amazing chance to see the huge facility that they have south of town and learn a little bit more about the industry.

Jessica gave a presentation to the City Council about the Leadership Certified Community. All members, including mayor Cecil Burt, were in favor and excited for the opportunity. Only a few more components are left to add to the document before it will be sent to the State of Nebraska Economic Development.

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to come to Custer County and learn from the amazing individuals here. I have learned some invaluable lessons and am so excited to continue to use the tools I have been given during the past 10 weeks of my serviceship.”



Leanne’s final article will be in the Custer County Chief Wednesday August 1st, coincidentally our last day in Broken Bow. Her article focused on the mammoth remains found south of where the Comstock concerts are held annually.

Our final days will be filled with spending time at the Custer County Fair and tying up any other loose ends. Overall, this opportunity has been amazing and we are already looking forward to visiting the community in years to come.




Columbus, Neb.

“This is the end of my part in Columbus, but they are on the cusp of some amazing stuff here.”



We have finished up our time in Columbus and have wrapped up or handed off all of our projects. The Columbus Area Future Fund had us working on creating marketing materials. We took videos and pictures of the Fund Advisory Committee members and used them to create monthly newsletters. The videos will also be used to promote the fund in the future.

During our time with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce we have worked on four different projects. We updated, rebranded and advertised the community calendar, Good Times.

We also held an event to reenergize the community brand, Something Good. The event was held over the course of two weeks, we posted trivia questions, held pop-up booths and chose winners through daily drawings.

Throughout the summer we planned and held Interns’ Night Out for the interns in the area. During those events, we offered dinner and had an activity, one night we had the local airboaters association give the interns rides down the Platte River.

In September, Columbus will be holding an event in conjunction with Young Nebraskans Week. We have been an integral part of the planning process for that event. We formed a committee and created a plan for them to follow in the months leading up to the event. We are looking forward to seeing how the event turns out.

When we asked KC Belitz what his favorite part of having us this summer was, he said, “The practical side is that you guys got actual work done. You worked on projects that we would not have done otherwise. The flip side of that is the staff had the chance to learn from both of you. What you each brought from your backgrounds and demographics and then also what you brought together are things that we all learned from. We will use that for a long time.” Kara Asmus replied, “I just love your enthusiasm and how you jumped in and gave 110% from the moment you got here. Your perspective, fresh ideas and participation exceeded my expectation.”

“We came here to make a difference for them, but they made a difference in us.”






Cozad, Neb.

One of our main projects this summer was the collaborative work on the First Impressions Program between Cozad and Ogallala. The First Impressions Program provides an opportunity for communities to learn about existing strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of the first-time visitor. The results from a First Impressions visit can serve as the basis for community action. This tool is particularly useful because as a matter of human nature, all communities have difficulities viewing their surroundings as others – customers, visitors, potential residents, and potential businesses – see them. Our views are skewed by over-familiarization, a lack of differing perspectives, expectations, and a reluctance to be completely honest with our neighbors when dealing with difficult issues, such as the appearance of buildings, customer service, and the maintenance of public faciities.

Volunteers from two somewhat similar communities agree to do unannounced visits and then report on their findings.  Participants become “secret shoppers” for the day to discover what they can about their sister community. This summer we’ve compiled and streamlines the feedback the teams provided about Cozad and Ogallala. Last week, we presented to Ogallala about the challenges and opportunities seen from a visitor’s perspective. Similarly, next week, we will be presenting the findings to community stakeholders in Cozad. In addition, we’ve included results from a recent community survey done by the library. This data will enhance what we are saying but backing it with community member views.

“The opportunity to spend the summer in a rural community shows you just how much Nebraska has to offer.”




Utilizing the information uncovered through the First Impressions Program, Ogallala and Cozad are applying for a grant through the Sherwood Foundation to take action on the opportunities presented. Property owners, businesses, and home owners along the highways and interstate corridors into the towns will be able to apply for matching grant funds to make aesthetic improvements. Clean-up and improve the aesthetics of the highway and interstate corridors into Cozad and Ogallala.

These projects can include public space improvements including landscaping: trees, shrubs, or permanent elements; professional removal of eyesores; compliance with local codes; murals; and public green spaces. Funding can provide property owners matching grants for replacement of boarded, missing, or broken windows; painting of structures; façade improvements; lighting or illumination of blighted areas; and demolition of dilapidated structures. Businesses and community organizations can use the grant to modernize websites of businesses, civic organizations, local administration, and tourist attractions to encourage a welcoming feel towards potential residents and companies.

We are excited to wrap up this project by celebrating the achievements and embracing the opportunities with the community members of Cozad. We hope to hear more about the status of our grant this fall and will be excited to see how Cozad develops in the future.




Norfolk, Neb.

As we wrap up our last full week in the Norfolk community, we are finishing up our projects with both the City of Norfolk and the departments we’ve been working with on that assignment, along with our projects with Daycos. Our next couple of days will be filled with coffee dates, lunch outings, and dinner get togethers to say goodbye to our mentors, co-workers, and all of the wonderful community members we have had the awesome opportunity of working with this summer.

“This serviceship experience has enabled me to grow my strengths and leverage them to leave the most positive impact possible on the Norfolk community.”



We have spent much of the past two weeks presenting our findings to many leadership and business groups in Norfolk. We do a large overview of the Rural Futures Institute and our projects with Daycos and the City of Norfolk, and then we dive into our strategies for cross-promoting business and up-selling Norfolk. We have developed an activity called “Griswold’s Norfolk Vacation” that has our audience try to identify a different business to recommend the disruptive Griswold’s to for every item on their very detailed and determined shopping list for their week away in Norfolk. It brings to light all of the noteworthy businesses that their community has and the impact that cross-promoting can have on their overall economy and culture.

One of the most successful presentations that we had was a focus group discussion that we held for all of Norfolk’s retail business owners. We invited the twenty-five businesses that we did Secret Shopper surveys on, along with many others. We shared with them the results and the data that we collected and where we believe the gaps are in their community. We gave them great action steps to start cross-promoting within their own businesses.

The portfolio that we will hand into the City of Norfolk when we finish our internship this summer will include many projects, strategies, and ideas to answer their original question to us: “How can the community of Norfolk cross promote all areas of retail?” The first example of this is a completed assessment of the Secret Shopper surveys we completed, analyzed, and discussed with the community members and stakeholders.

We also are working on finalizing a strategy on how to incentivize local businesses to up-sell Norfolk. We created a marketing plan to promote all areas and sectors of the community’s retail. Another project we are including in this portfolio is the windshield assessment that we worked on, focussing on the six major hubs of retail in Norfolk.

Lastly, we created a plan to execute a Norfolk-wide customer service training seminar, partnering with the major players in the community.

Last week, we also had the opportunity to join on of our mentors, Economic Developer Candice Alder, for the Network Northeast Nebraska meeting. We heard many success stories about a few new strategies in rural development, such as ProsperNE, hiring out private consulting firms, and ECAP. This was a great learning experience, but more than that it was a great way to meet many leaders in rural economic development in Nebraska.

“I look forward to taking what I have learned from my serviceship experience in Norfolk and applying it in my future career. I know that I am leaving this community with a step in the right direction, a better knowledge of my career goals and a strong network of community leaders.”


As we’re starting to reflect on our experience in Norfolk, we have come to the conclusion that we have had the opportunity to apply so many valuable skills and use so much vital knowledge that we have gained from our college classes and past internship.

Traci Jeffery, Visitors Bureau Executive Director said, “Cheyenne and Samantha bring an impressive skill set to our community that was valued by many local leaders. They instantly stepped into the role and were advocates for Norfolk. Their work provided a vision for retail and has set us on a course for success with local businesses.”




Omaha Land Bank

The time has come, and Sydney and Kyle are done with their internship at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. It is crazy to think that just 10 short weeks ago we started out on this journey. We came into the internship with little knowledge on what our work was going to entail this summer at the Land Bank. However, at the end of week 10 we are leaving with more knowledge and information than we had ever planned on.

The last two weeks have been busy for Kyle and Sydney at the Land Bank. Last Friday we attended a “Why We Can’t Wait Urban League YP Summit.” We were able to interact with multiple community members and associations on different topics impacting Omaha’s community.

These topics included: Pay Equity, Gentrification, and LGBTQ. The information we gained from this Summit was very eye opening and opened a lot of good discussion for the Land Bank.

Our mentor, Laura Heilman, lead the discussion on Gentrification and how it affects North Omaha. Kyle and Sydney took notes and helped capture what Omaha was really feeling about Gentrification and how the Land Bank could help remove these thoughts of Gentrification and move the thoughts to “community development.”

In addition to our time learning about community input and the area that we are working in, we had the opportunity to watch two development projects get into their final steps.

The film crew the Land Bank hired allowed us to shadow as they interviewed individuals involved and began creating promotional material of homes that had been redone. The first day of filming was with a transformed property in the Country Club neighborhood. This home was a large house in an upscale neighborhood but had a hole in the roof, was overgrown, and had overall become rundown over the years. The Country Club house was originally on the slate of demolitions for the City of Omaha until the Land Bank stepped in to save it. Now the renovations are complete, and the new owners move in on Friday.

“One of my favorite things about the Land Bank is how concerned they are with community input. They really care about what the community wants and what is in the best interests of community members instead of what will benefit their business more.”


The property owners were kind enough to allow the staff to walk through and see the finished home before they had moved. Sydney and Kyle were able to see the inspector for the city come look over the property for approval. Additionally, we were able to speak and listen to interviews with the general contractor, neighbors, and the design team. The sheer scope of what went into this beautiful home cannot be overstated as it was transformed from a hazard with termite damage and animals getting in and out to a stately home on a prominent corner lot. What had caused neighbors on either side to leave because of the vacant and dangerous property next door is now a newly renovated envy of the neighborhood.

Today we had the chance to go see the installation of the house built by Metro Community College in their construction trades building. The lot was owned by the land bank and located across the street from the campus. It will be a 1600 sq. ft home with attached garage and a size-able backyard located in north Omaha. The home will be sold to a family that can ideally live in it long term and help begin to fill in vacant lots near the campus and bring up the rest of the neighborhood. The home was carried by semi in three segments and set on a foundation. We were able to witness the move of the home from the truck and onto the foundation across steel beams. This coming Fall, the home will be up for sale and give a new family a great home. Hopefully more projects can be planned out over the course of years and metro will be able to continue to install new housing in their own backyard so students for decades to come can see the work done to make the city a better place.




Red Cloud, Neb.

In the preceding weeks we had been working almost constantly on the economic development plan and other related projects. Starting last Monday, we shook things up and drove out to the Starke Round Barn for a week much different than most of our time here. The Starke Round Barn is the world’s largest round barn used in agricultural production. It is three stories high and 140 feet across—not to mention 115 years old. Today, the barn is privately owned and upkept by Liz Rasser, who we spent the week working with.

“As we pass on the torch, I am confident that we helped to fuel the community’s growth and change. Of all the things I learned, I will never forget the energy and dedication of the people here. They will certainly keep the flame burning for a long time to come.”



The Rasser family purchased the barn in 1931 after the Starke family went bankrupt during the Great Depression.  Part of our task was to figure out what led to their fallout and bankruptcy. To do this, we learned how to use microfiche, microfilm, and century old courthouse records. Some of these techniques were more fun than others.

It turns out that microfilm is not exactly easy to use, and we became rather disoriented after only a few minutes staring at the bright screen. To avoid the headaches, we spent a lot of time inside the office of the Red Cloud Chief newspaper where they store physical copies of every Red Cloud newspaper since the 1880s…except the year 1923. And, what do you know, that is the exact year we were looking for!

Liz had known that the Starke cattle herd contracted tuberculosis and our mission was to find out what happened to the herd. In the District Court records we found a case where the Starke Bros. sued a man who refused to pay for the sick cows the Starkes sold him (Starke, Chris and William v. Louis Borcherding, 1924.)

After looking through all the newspaper in the area at the time of the court’s decision we found absolutely nothing about the dying herd. To make up for it, we found out when and for how much the Rasser family purchased the Starke property for! Although we didn’t come away with ground breaking information, it was great to learn about all the resources for finding out historical information.

The rest of the week we helped Liz update the barn’s website, create a new visitor and tour policy, and plan out an art gallery she is hosting in September. It’s quite impressive how she has been able to maintain the Round Barn and its story while still working full time on a farm—a true representative of these dedicated people.

“With this Serviceship wrapping up and our Economic Plan being handed off to the citizens here, I cannot wait to see what amazing progress they make with it moving forward. And I can’t wait to come back in the future to see this amazing community continue to grow and thrive.”


During this week, we spent our time polishing the economic development plan. On Friday the 13th we hosted a meeting with the city council and other stake holders to get feedback on the plan and that went very well. We also had a meeting on Wednesday with the Economic Development Advisory Board for additional thoughts. This week we added a few items, changed some, and made lots of tiny edits to get it into presentable shape. Thursday the 26th and Friday the 27th of July we give presentations to the public about our plan.

After this week it will be up to the people here to follow through with the steps to make the community grow. It’s quite amazing to think that we came here only a few months ago and, in that time, managed to understand how the town functions and organize the concerns and ideas of so many different people. We know that the people here are passionate and inspired to keep moving forward and we have no doubt that they will.

Episode 9: Entrepreneur Seth Derner intersects learning, purpose, next gen economy




Growing up on a ranch in Nebraska, Seth Derner has a deep passion and appreciation for nature, wildlife, agriculture and rural communities. He is also the co-founder and co-CEO of Vivayic, a learning solutions design company that works around the country to help organizations reach their human potential. With a clear sense of purpose for himself, his family and his company, and an explicit admiration for the human brain and the role of technology to unleash it, Seth encapsulates the attributes of the “rural mavericks” Dr. Connie seeks to highlight and learn from on this podcast. He shares actionable insights, advice and lessons learned that entrepreneurs, community leaders and students will certainly appreciate.

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“Communities and organizations should challenge themselves to ask, ‘Who is it that we are called to be?’“
Seth Derner
Co-Founder & Co-CEO, Vivayic

About Seth


Seth has spent his career focusing on important outcomes that lead to measurable success. As a teacher, he more than tripled enrollment in his program within three years. As an education specialist for the National FFA Organization, Seth completed the revision of nine national student programs in two years, and led the design and production of a comprehensive leadership skill curriculum adopted by over 2,000 career and technical teachers.Seth co–authored the book, “Strategies for Great Teaching” with Mark Reardon. The book, like Seth’s approach, is filled with practical strategies for getting better results.

The passion for results, learning and new ideas led Seth to help create Vivayic. Seth believes in leading by example. You’re just as likely to find him designing an elearning course as meeting with a prospective client. He believes deeply that Vivayic is only beginning to realize its potential and that there is a lifetime of great ideas and satisifying successes to pursue.


Show Notes

Hello and welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie, and joining me today is Seth Derner. Seth is the co-founder and co-CEO of Vivayic, an amazing company based here in Nebraska, but with presence all over the world. Seth, that’s just a little bio about you, tell us a little bit more about yourself and your company.

Thanks Dr. Connie, I appreciate being a part of the podcast, a big fan. So a little bit about myself, I grew up a ranch in Wheeler County. My parents are still up there. I came down to the University of Nebraska and went back to up to Antelope County, where I was an ag teacher. I have since worked for non-profits, state government, 13 years ago started the company, my wife and I moved back to Lincoln when we started the company, and it’s just been an adventure ever since. So, my wife, and two sons, and I live here in Lincoln, but like you said, we’ve got 20 plus full-time employees, all the way from California to Florida. And, you know, we have a great time doing the work that we do helping other organizations be successful.

Well, dive into that a little bit more. I know you’re a leader of purpose and presence, and do things in very meaningful ways. Tell us a little bit more about Vivayic.

So I always tell people, we’re in the training and development business and immediately people think, oh you do a lot of stand and deliver, like sales trainings, and actually we don’t. (laughs) As much as I used to love being in the front of the classroom, we are the people behind great training and development at other organizations, or great curriculum developed by other organizations. So most of our work is helping with the strategy, the design, and the planning of new training programs for employees, onboarding programs, knowledge dissemination, or curriculum for non-profits, or for we do some work with state governments. So yeah, our folks, we come alongside other companies who have a big idea, or a big need, but they need capacity, they need people who have outside perspective, and who have design skills to make those things happen. And that’s what we help them do is map out the best way forward so that people can really be impacted. We exist to help build the capacity of those organizations that are doing good in the world, and we define that in four areas, organizations that are helping feed sustainably the planet, those who are committed to making education more relevant for young people, organizations that are working in international space to help small, older farmers be more successful, and then the fourth is any organization that is deeply committed to making sure that their employees have opportunities for growth and development. So that purpose helps us get real clear about the work, the kind of clients that we work with, the kind of work that we want to do, it’s been awesome. We recently just updated our vision, and our vision is mostly about the impact that we wanna have. It’s not about how big we wanna be. Like, we don’t really care if we end up being a 200 person company, or if we stay a 25 person company. Like, that isn’t what drives us. What drives us is saying, are we doing the kind of work that we love to do, are we making money doing it, and are we doing it with the kind of people we want to do it with? That’s kind of our guiding principles as we move forward in this adventure that we’re on with Vivayic.

Well, and I really appreciate that about you. I mean you’ve had such an instrumental impact on so many things here in Nebraska, not just your company, but the leadership you bring to the table, but also around the nation, around the world, with that extended outreach you have through technology. I love that history of being a ranch kid that now works in the tech space, right? And you were a teacher, so I mean that’s just all this wonderful sort of history and adventure all in one. But what about that name Vivayic?

When we were thinking about starting the company, my partner Doug and I, we’re meeting with some folks who were kind of mentoring us, people who had started their own companies, and we were at dinner one time in Minneapolis meeting with a gentleman who was giving us some advice and his wife happened to be with them. And they were both originally from India. And she was a linguist, both her and her mom were trained linguists in India, and she was listening to the conversation and then she just pipes up all of the sudden and says, “You know what you’re talking about is this thing from an ancient Sanskrit word which loosely sounds like vivayic.” We had no idea what to call the company and we’re like, well that sounds interesting, and the website was available, and that was really all the thought we put into it. (laughs) But the way she described the word was it’s the ability to impart wisdom not through books but through experience. And I think that’s what drives us is this idea about how you help organizations give people meaningful experience so that they can learn and use that learning to apply to be better employees, or better customers, better shareholders, whatever it is that they’re trying to improve upon, how do you give them meaningful experience? You talked about technology, I think that’s the thing like we work with a lot of technology but I have no more idea about coding, and networking, than my dad who’s still on the ranch. But what I learned early in teaching is I was one of the first teachers in the state who taught using the distance classrooms. So this was old school, these were hard wires, 17 classrooms, and I taught in a classroom where I’d see three televisions, and I could see kids in these communities, and they could see my students, and me, and what was eye-opening and awesome to me was the fact that here were students who prior to this technology didn’t have a way to access learning about agriculture. And they lived in communities where agriculture was the life blood of their community but for whatever reason they didn’t have an ag teacher, or an FFA chapter in their community, and all of the sudden technology made that possible. What I learned quickly was just because technology makes something possible, doesn’t make it effective because standing in front of a television teaching it’s just different. You have to think differently to make that a successful experience. And so, that’s kind of been our mantra throughout is technology allows a lot of great things to happen. People have access to information like they’ve never had access before, but learning is more than just being able to access information. It’s giving people an experience, it’s putting them in situations, it’s challenging them to think differently, it’s giving them a chance to get their hands on a real world situation and figure out how to solve the problem, and I think we’re still in the process as a society shifting from this idea that teaching and learning is about getting people the right information. The teaching and learning being about how do we get people the right kind of opportunity to practice, or to learn something new, and then be there to coach and guide as they start to make sense of it on their own and see how it plays out in the world? We love technology because it makes things possible, but we don’t say technology solves the problem, technology gives us the venue to solve the problems.

Well, how do you see that sort of evolving? Right now, I think when we talk about the future and the evolution of humanity and technology, are people gonna be replaced by robots, or AI, will we no longer have a purpose as people? From your perspective how do you see the evolution of technology and humanity together?

That’s a great question. And I don’t know if I have any special insight, I guess I have perspective because we work with lots of different organizations across crops, livestock, high tech, finance, so we get to see lots of different businesses and kind of what they’re doing, and how technology is changing their world. It’s probably, it’s the same question just a different version of the question as was asked for the last 80 years about technology. Over Memorial Day, went and visited the cemetery where my grandparents, and great-grandparents, and great-great, you know the whole lineage is buried, and you start thinking about we’re dealing with technological change, but the first tractors were introduced like talk about automation.

Right, that’s so true.

That was a gigantic change in society that automated and even the telephone and the ability to communicate, so I don’t know that our challenge is any different than past generations, to say how will technology, it’s gonna supplant some jobs. There’s no doubt about that. But we’re gonna be able to automate some things that currently people are hired to do. But that’s always been the case. What I always remind people, the human brain is so amazing, it is so powerful, especially when we unleash it and we give it permission to learn, and adapt, and create. When we really allow people to figure out how to solve problems and we look at human resources and organizations not as people doing tasks, but of people solving problems for your organization, then you start thinking about well how do we position people to solve the problems we need solved in today’s world with the kind of technology we have versus what we would have been doing 10 years ago? It’s exciting, it’s scary, but I think it’s always been exciting and scary, it’s just a different version of that for communities today.

I agree and I think the other thing is we hear so much more about it. I mean, it’s this sort of inundation of information and data and even though we see things changing at this exponential pace, there has always been change. But just like as you said with the telephone, when I go back to my own parents’ house my dad’s house, he still has a wall phone. My kids are eight and 11 and they’re just sort of like this is so cool, because it’s a phone that’s connected to the wall, but I’m also not quite sure how to use it. (laughs)

How do you get on Facebook with this thing?

Right, (laughs) why do you want to connect it to the wall? Of course the cord is just stretched out for miles, because it’s the same phone my family’s had for eons, and I had to take it down to the stairs to have a private conversation in our giant family. So it’s stretched out pretty long. But it is an interesting time in terms of technology, there seems to be a lot of drama in that space. But what I appreciate about what you said, is that human element as well. And I think sometimes that’s forgotten in these sort of futurist perspectives, is that the human brain is amazing, humans are amazing, our emotions are amazing. There’s so much that humans have to offer.

So this is what I know about is with this kind of change is there are companies out there who are very centered on taking care of their people and at the same time looking at automation because they know that in order for the company to sustain they’ve got to continue to be profitable. It’s being two-minded to say, if we don’t make profit, then we can’t exist, and we can’t offer anybody employment opportunities. So we have to automate in order to stay efficient, to stay profitable, but we really care about people. Now, there are some companies that stay profitable and really maybe don’t care about people and that’s a whole other conversation. I’m hoping those kinds of organizations will eventually go away and are replaced by really purpose-driven values-based organizations, where they put their people at the center of everything they do. But those are our role models are those kinds of companies. And those kinds of companies, what they’re saying is there may be a point in time where we have to transition people out of employment. And if there’s an opportunity to transition them to other employment in our organization that looks differently we’re gonna do everything possible to help discover how people can grow their skills to play a role in a different organization. And if they can’t, those organizations are typically helping the people transition to other kinds of roles outside of their organization. And I just think, if more companies were more intentional about talking about that so that if it is automation is gonna change the future, but it’s also we’re committed to helping people be as successful as they can be, or choose to be, and then I think communities as well, we all probably can think of somebody whose job got replaced at some point in our history by something got automated, and it’s like what do we as communities do? Do we just look at them and say, gosh well too bad you don’t have the skills to get something else? Or do we figure out how we collectively think about well what is it that as a community we need to do to lift people up and prepare them for different opportunities in the future? And I think education has a role in that, and I think communities have a role in that. If you wanna be proactive because leaving people behind, I think that’s what creates resentment and that then drives the fear that people have, they’re gonna be one of those that get left behind in the future.

Well, you know, we’ve talked a lot about that here at the Rural Futures Institute, like how do we obviously partner with other organizations to connect our rural areas? But then, also, help our rural people, our rural communities, really thrive in this next generation economy? In some ways people still have that stereotype of rural that, oh it’s all negative not a lot going on, and I’m not saying there’s not challenges because there are. But in so many other ways I think there’s these amazing opportunities in front of rural communities, and specifically there’s more partnership with urban and we start creating different models and different questions that are more positive in nature and bringing on that abundance mindset that I know you talk about a lot. And really thinking about how do we as leaders make sure that we’re positioning ourselves, our communities, to where we want to be and need to be? How do we serve a purpose in this evolution of the world and how can we do better in the future so people are prosperous and thrive wherever they choose to live?

I truly believe that’s what makes us human to compare and to try and compete. I mean that’s the natural order. But what make humans unique is the ability to imagine what would it look like if we collaborated, cooperated, and helped each other out? I continue to hold this belief that it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. That there isn’t enough for everybody, and if there’s not enough for everybody, then I’ve gotta make sure that I get mine first, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure I get what I think I need, and if other people don’t, well that’s their problem. I’m all about free markets because our company wouldn’t exist without a free market that said, here’s a niche nobody’s doing this well, and if we do it better than other people, then we should be able to grow and enjoy the opportunities that provides. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that when you look at the world and think that there’s scarcity, that there’s a very small pie and I have to compete to get as much as I can, that leads you to think about everything in one way. You think about the people that you hire, you think about your competitors, you think about opportunities, it’s all based on this scarcity mindset. In the long-term it leads to a lot of negative behaviors and it leads to a really toxic culture, I think bad decision making, and sometimes I think people aren’t intentional about that, that’s just how we’re wired. Like when we started the company, we’d go to these networking things and the first question out of people’s mouth is how many employees, what’s your revenue, how fast are you growing? Which are all legitimate questions, but they’re questions I don’t really care about. To me it’s well, are we making enough profit that we can do the things we want to do as a company? So if our revenue is 100 million, or one million, if I was generating the margins necessary to do what I want to do, how big doesn’t matter it’s are you doing the thing that you are set out to do? And that means you have to define success in your own way and that you believe that just you being successful doesn’t prevent anyone else from being successful. So when somebody who’s maybe in your space doing similar work to you has a success, you don’t gnash your teeth and get angry and envious, you say gosh that’s awesome. Like look what they did, what can we learn from them that might be able to help us drive to the success that we want? You talk about next generation economy to me that’s the next, next generation economy is how do we build an economy full of businesses which say this is our purpose, this is what we want to do, and we’re gonna measure our success based on what we believe is important? That may mean we only have two employees, but we’re doing good work in the world, meaningful work, and that work is having impact. Or it might mean you have 10,000 employees because that’s what it takes in order to fulfill your purpose. We have organizations that are purpose driven, that are people-centered, and where we celebrate everybody’s success, we don’t always worry about if we’re coming out on top. But I think that same message applies to communities. You know, how many times a small town, you’re in a small town they complain because another town got a new store, or a new mill, or a new ethanol plant, and they didn’t. It’s like, well, what do you want your community to be? Be intentional about your purpose, and your character, and lean into that, and then when another town has a success celebrate that and then learn to say, well what did they do that we can learn from that could help us be who we want to be? I think a lot of organizations, towns, or companies, non-profits, they don’t have real clarity about what their purpose is, why did they exist, and what are they shooting toward? Because I think once you get that, then it becomes a lot easier, and it becomes a lot more fun to work towards something and to call people to be part of something as opposed to just worrying about some of the things are out of your control, market conditions, prices, those kinds of things.

I agree and I think it just generates that natural flow. As I’ve done a lot of executive and leadership coaching, even if they seem externally successful, internally they’re not always very happy because they’ve lost that sense of purpose or weren’t very clear on it from the beginning. And I think in so many ways, especially in the U.S. we’re very socialized to win everything, to be first at this, to go out for every sport, to be this and that just like you were talking about with the revenues and employees we have so devalued small businesses, or solopreneurs, kind of this negative mom and pop store, like that’s a bad thing. And, you know, it’s unfortunate that we’ve sort of characterized things in that way. I mean I think that’s changing a little bit, but to really value the purpose individuals bring that can then spring into what does that mean for an organization or a community? I think it’s so important and I think this starts when people are very young and very little. Just as you said, with many communities I think part of what’s happening in the rural landscape is you know a lot of those communities were established for railroads and other purposes, they had a purpose, when they were first founded. Well, when that purpose went away the struggle has been very real. And so, it’s really important to redefine that purpose so that people want to be engaged in that community and people are attracted to whatever that purpose is especially as people can live, work, play all of of that wherever they want to go.

The one thing that we’re just continuing to see more and more of is people are drawn to authenticity, because we’ve been so inundated with advertising, social media, messaging, messaging, messaging. I think we’re all conditioned to think pretty much everything you hear is a load of BS, like there’s a story behind. (laughs) And so I think when people find something that really feels and smells authentic, like they’re just, it’s almost a relief that that can still exist in the world. And to me, that’s where small businesses, rural communities, have such a leg up over large organizations and large communities. They can choose to quickly lean into their authentic self and their authentic purpose. And again, you might not be for everybody, I tell that to people who call me and want a job every time. It’s more than likely we’re not the organization you’re gonna like hanging out with, ’cause we’re a little zany, we’re a little nerdy, we’re goody two shoes, we work virtually, like you have to work damn hard for us, I mean you don’t miss deadlines, you have to be really nice to customers and clients, even when they’re grumpy with you. Like there’s a lot of people who we’re like, you probably aren’t gonna like it here. But that’s okay, there’s some place that you will love. You just need to find the place where you will love to be and that way the people we have they don’t spend time thinking about the grass being greener on the other side. They know that they’re in the place that aligns to who they want to be. I think communities and organizations should challenge themselves to say, who is it that we are called to be and how do we be okay with not trying to be all things to all people? Because when you try to be all things to all people, you end up being really nothing to no one, so.

Well, that’s so important. I think when you really think about that, that’s why you attract the right employees. And I think this comes from your abundance mindset, right? It may not be right for you, but something else is. So if it’s not this it’s A-okay. And I think that’s where it’s not like a win lose thing all of the time, or if I win you lose. And you know what we can be happy for the success of others, but this also takes a little bit different leadership style than what we’ve seen in the past. We’ve been getting away from the command and control, I need to look good, and if you’re too nice, I get that one a lot (laughs), if you’re too nice you’re not that effective. So I’m really excited that authenticity and being nice actually is starting to be a good thing, rather than a negative thing. Just to build on this a little bit, Seth, I’d love to hear about yourself as a leader. What is sort of your leadership style and philosophy to help support this type of very mindful growth?

It continues to evolve because I think leadership is one of those things that is an abstract concept, it sounds really good until you have to put it into practice. (laughs)

You know it’s true, I think. That’s why learning it from a textbook is hard isn’t it?

Right, yeah, and then it’s like you think you’re good at it but it’s a point in time and then like in six months you’ve got a different situation and you realize, I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m probably screwing things up. And so, it’s like one of those never ending things where you’re always learning. But this is what I would say is, this was some, I don’t remember where I heard it many years ago, but the talk about when your people don’t have clarity about what’s important to you, what your purpose is, what your values are, they won’t be able to choose to engage with you. They’re always going to be guessing. And so, I think that’s probably my biggest leadership philosophy is I know I’m an imperfect person making imperfect decisions every day. And I tell the people on my team, I don’t know that this is the right decision. I’m making a guess, it’s the best guess I have. But I believe that it’s moving us in the right direction and if it’s not we’ll change course. And then, when I make a mistake I own it. So that I think is part of it, is if you want to be an authentic organization, it starts with you as a leader being really honest with yourself about what you care about, where you’re trying to go, what’s important to you, and then being vulnerable enough to share that with the people around you. Our organization’s really unique, because Doug and I are co-founders, we’re co-owners, it’s a 50/50 deal, there are no unilateral decisions at Vivayic. I can’t wake up tomorrow morning decide to hire, fire, or change something, like everything we have to collaborate. And we’ve gotten told multiple times by other entrepreneurs, like you’ve gotta change that. That’s gonna be the thing that keeps you from being successful. And what we continue to find is it’s the thing that keeps us from failing, is because some of the flat sides I have are Doug’s strengths, and some of Doug’s flat sides are my strengths. And when we trust each other enough to believe that we’re both trying to make the best decision for the whole organization, that when we trust each other, and we allow, we give each other permission to move forward on things based on like somebody just strongly believes this is the right thing to do, and then we forgive each other sometimes when it’s not (laughs) that that has made us a very resilient organization. We have survived a lot of ups and downs, and have we missed some opportunities because it takes us a while to make decisions? Probably, but have we kept ourselves from making dumb decisions? Definitely. We have this goal that Vivayic will be around for generations after we’re gone. Not because it’s an ego thing for us, but because we believe that the purpose of Vivayic could have generational impact. And that we need to make decisions that ensure that there’s an opportunity for that to happen for years to come.

(Music Transition)

Not only I think do you have a strong purpose in your business, but you’ve really combined that with your life, your wife, and your working so closely together, the kids, everything, but not only you and your immediate family, the families of all of your employees, as well. Can you share with our listeners how you work at that type of culture at Vivayic and some of the things you do to really engage people in their own lives?

We do lots of things, it’s really important to us that people not only believe that we care and that we want them to be successful, but we have to demonstrate that time, and time, and time again. So our leadership team which is Doug and I and both of our wives work full-time for the company, which that just then blows people’s minds. Like wait–

That really does (laughs).

You’re 50/50 partners and both your wives work? And we’re like, yes, that is the leadership team for the company which it’s like having a double marriage but not in a weird way, like in a cool way. (laughs) I always tell people not in a weird way, the great thing is across the four of us we each bring different strengths, but we have a shared commitment of taking care of people, so. We do that at a collective level, we do that at an individual level, so for instance because we’re virtual everyone works from a home office. We have four or five people who are living on a family farm, their spouse is farming full-time, and then we’ve got people in Chicago, so we’ve got people everywhere. We get together three times a year in person to build community. For a small example, we always make sure that no one has to travel on a weekend, so that nothing that you do for Vivayic should require you to sacrifice the time with your family on a weekend. Now, does that mean that our people don’t occasionally work or travel on a weekend? No, ’cause they do, but when we get to choose to make things happen, we’re gonna choose to honor people’s ability to be with their family, or be in their community. So we try to be intentional. The thing is I think that being your own business leader is you know when you need to make an accommodation because somebody’s got something going on in their world, you get the ability to make that decision. For instance, in January one of our team members in California felt compelled that she needed to run for the United States Congress House of Representatives District One. And she called us and the first thing we said is you bet, what do you need? And she needed to cut back hours, she needed flexibility, and we talked about it as leadership team, we felt it was something that we needed to do and also we were really transparent with the team that says these are the decisions we’re making and why we’re making them. I think the reason our team no one complains, in fact they’re all very supportive and excited, a lot of them contributed and helped her campaign. What they know is that, we’ve had people who’ve needed extended maternity leaves, just because of situations, or people who wanted to take an extended mission trip. So they know that we would be that concerned about all of them in the same way we would for Audrey. And does that make things hard? Sure, as a company, yeah, because the easy thing to do is say nope. You signed up, here’s the deal. If you want to leave your job, leave your job, but that’s the easy thing. But we say, we’re flexible enough, we’re adaptable enough, we can work around that. And I just think that is part of what we hope we’re modeling for the people on our team, because you know I have this dream that some people on our team will be inspired and think of an idea of a business they want to start and we can help them be successful and we’ve given them a model and a blueprint of how to be authentic in their own leadership as they start an enterprise. That’s our personal purpose is to try to create an entity that can do this for people and model a different way of having a company that both makes money and does good in the world.

And I think the next generation workplace also requires next generation leadership.

(Music Transition)

I’d love to dive in as we close here, any words of wisdom you would like to share with our audience?

The biggest word of wisdom I have is I think collectively as a society and individually we’re all answering the questions of do I matter? And I think the hard part is is that we all think we’re doing it by ourselves, and the companies and the communities that are successful in the future are those who can answer the question with a resounding yes. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice is try and find the like-minded people who are affirming the positive answer to that question. I think we all get stuck in the cycle of listening to the negative voices and believing that things aren’t gonna get better, and that I am just a number, I am just someone who’s a customer to an organization, I’m just somebody who’s target marketed by a political campaign, like I don’t matter, and I don’t believe that. I believe that everybody has within them the ability to discover what it is that they’re intended to do here on Earth. But most of us aren’t given the time, or permission, or encouragement to figure that out. And so that’s my piece of advice is be a person who’s trying to figure it out and when you do have a sense of what yours is, then turn around and try and help others figure out what theirs is as well. Because I think that would make a tremendous difference in the kind of businesses that are created, how we treat each other, and the kind of communities that we could create if there was more of that mindset.

Episode 8: Futurist Andy Hines intersects purpose, work, tech







Foresight is a key characteristic of leaders of the future. In this episode well-known author and futurist Dr. Andy Hines discusses how leaders can incorporate various futuring strategies to bring people into the future with optimism and a mindset of abundance. Andy is assistant professor and program coordinator for the University of Houston’s graduate program in foresight. His openness to the possibilities of the future and his commitment to practicing what he preachers, make him a maverick across industries—from exploring the future of RV parks to communities large and small to the future of waste. Tune in!

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“If you’re a technology innovator, you ignore people at your own peril.“  
Andy Hines

About Andy


Dr. Andy Hines is Program Coordinator and Lecturer at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight, bringing together the experience he earned as an organizational, consulting, and academic futurist. He is also speaking, workshopping, and consulting through his firm Hinesight. Before that, he was Managing Director of Social Technologies/Innovaro, and served as an Adjunct Professor with the university since 2004. Hines enjoyed earlier careers as a consulting and organizational futurist.

Hines is motivated by a professional hunger to make foresight practical and useful, and he believes that foresight can help deliver the insight that is so needed in today’s organizations and the world. His goal, he says, is to infect as many change agents as possible with this message. Thus, he has honed a skill set designed to make foresight more actionable in organizations. His dissertation focused on “The Role of an Organizational Futurist in Integrating Foresight into Organizations.”

In this pursuit, he has authored five books:


Show Notes

Hi, I’m Dr. Connie, your host of the Rural Futures Podcast, and joining me today for conversation is Dr. Andy Hines. He’s assistant professor and program coordinator for the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Foresight and is also speaking, work shopping, and consulting through his firm, Hinesight which I think is a clever name, Andy. That, I mean that was pretty darn good. His 25 plus years of professional futuristic experience includes a decades experience working inside first the Kellogg Company and later, Dow Chemical, and consulting work with Coates and Jarratt, Inc. and Social Technologies Innovaro. Okay Andy, so that’s a little intro about you, tell us a little bit more about who Dr. Andy Hines is.

Well first of all, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the future, that’s always a lot of fun for me. For my background, basically I’ve worked in different aspects of introducing people to the future saying look, there’s a way that we can think about a plan for what we’re gonna prepare for, influence our future in a more systematic way with a few simple tools and concepts. And so I’ve looked for different venues and opportunities and ways not only to introduce people to the future, but then to help them actually do something about it. One of the benefits of working in different spots, different organizations and with different kinds of folks is you get a sense, oh, you know how does that effective translation take place? How do we translate the future into something that we can do about it today?

Well and you do that through a lot of different avenues, just like your bio said. I mean obviously consulting, but also teaching, a lot of writing and really prolific in this space in terms of being a futurist and really helping others develop this sort of strategic foresight ability that we now know leaders need, in this day and age. So could you define for our audience strategic foresight and future-ing to help them understand the lens you approach this through?

Well, the simplest way to think about it is I started out as a history undergrad and we have all these tools and approaches for studying the past, and I said well why can’t we do the same thing for the future? And there is a lot we can learn from history, that at the same time part of what we’re trying to understand when we look to the future is not necessarily continuity and patterns, that’s part of it. But where are the disruptions, major surprises that might influence the future? One of the things that we’ve learned is that most people have a view of the future that you know tomorrow’s gonna be much like today, and don’t really want to think about the potential surprises and that’s kind of where the futurists come in. We are pretty good at identifying those potential disruptors.

Absolutely, what do you see as some of those surprises right now that maybe other people are not seeing?

One of the ways I think that foresight has changed is now there’s so much information out there about not only the present, but the future as well. It’s a little bit less about, we call it finding the hidden gem, I mean somebody has probably found it, somebody has probably written about it, and so a lot of what we do now is kinda sift through and synthesize that world of information and try to come up with what we think are those major themes, so and certainly artificial intelligence is one that again, it’s a really big deal the impact of automation on jobs, it’s a big deal. A lot of people are talking about it. Even we have automated vehicles, so there’s a lot of interesting technologies that are coming and part of our job is to kind of help translate that, like what does that mean for what we should do in our job?

Well what I appreciate about being a futurist is, a lot of people are talking about technology and some of those disruptive technologies, but I happen to know from our pre-convo that you know we’re also looking at the people’s side of future-ing. What does it mean to live with more purpose? What does it mean to and want to frame your own future as an individual? And how does that shape the future itself, in terms of technology now enabling people to live where they wanna live, create the life that they want, and not just working in a job anymore, forever, but, really creating this life of purpose? So what’re you finding around this whole concept of these Winnebago Warriors? (laughing) I think is the term you used in our pre-convo. Tell us a little bit more what you’re finding in some, these population patterns.

Yeah, sure, so first thing is, I’ve looked at technology a lot for the last 30 years and there is a graveyard of really cool, innovative technology concepts that failed to kind of pass the we’ll call it the people test. That is ultimately a technology has to be used by people in order to kind of survive, right? So, if you’re a technology innovator, you ignore people at your own peril, so it’s really the interplay of how does technology meet a social or people need? And those two things have to come together and as we explore the future, one might argue that it’s actually that people social needs that are actually the more compelling and interesting. You talk about automating jobs, there’s less need for people to do jobs. So what are we gonna do, you brought up a good point, that it sort of causes us to reflect on what is our purpose?


Now for many, almost centuries now, our purpose has been to work. And we say, this is a pretty extraordinary change that we’re living through, as we start to question that may not need to be our primary purpose anymore. And so, you combine that with some technologies that say, many of us can work from wherever we want using technology much like we’re using here today. For me to be in the same room with you virtually from Houston, so then this is if we can work from wherever we want, where do we choose to live? Doesn’t have to necessarily be close to our job anymore. And we look for a kinda weak signals of change and one of those that we’ve found, we call them the Winnebago Warriors, and it’s this some people have said, well why settle anywhere at all? Let’s go to where we want, let’s spend some time in different parts of the country, get to know different cultures and we don’t need those permanent routes.

Well and let’s just, yeah, create this life experience we’ll make a little money along the way, we’re gonna figure that out, but now that we can be completely mobile why buy a home? Is that now the American Dream, anymore? To own a home with a picket fence and two point five kids and a dog orr is it, you know what, I just wanna go do some really cool stuff (laughing) and create this experience that really calls me? And find my purpose differently, because we know that through research purpose, adds about seven years to people’s lives. But we also know in the US, after people retire they tend to have health challenges or even we lose them, because they’ve lost their sense of purpose because it’s been so tied to their job. How do you see some of that flowing in terms of what it means for people, but also locations? We talk about this a lot with the rural future, like, could this be a positive thing for the rural future? If we have people that are connected or do we have to kind of even rethink that a little bit, to make sure people can create that life in those rural communities?

Yes, I think one of the really interesting strategic questions will start with the rural area, but it’s also true of urban, is historically or even recently one of the big factors is, can we get Amazon to put a headquarters or put a branch in our area and you know what do we have to give away to get the big company to come and provide its jobs. Like, that’s been a lot of focus of economic development rural and urban. And again, if we believe this trend towards automation and less reliance on work, it sort of creates a different set of criteria for what’s the identity of our community? Not only ourselves, right? The more progressive schools are helping children think about, it’s gonna be a multiple career world and really think through what are the skill sets, what do I want to do, like preparing individuals for many changes. And I think it may be a community can think of itself the same way, like what’s our identity what do we want to be known for and recognize and that too, may change over time. Can we develop a robust sense of community that can evolve along with the changing times? So the quick example we talked a little bit yesterday easy one to think about, let’s look at what happened in Detroit, right? Along with a lot of the other declining industrial cities, who have gone through a major identity crisis and are now trying to rethink, who should we be? How do we get people to come back and what people do we want to come back? And I think that kind of a process of thinking through who we are, who we want to be, is really the right one and not just assume it’s we wanna be the site of a major big company so we can have jobs, may not be who we are.

I think communities themselves also need a purpose now. So, what’s your purpose for being and existing we say that about companies, we say that about people, but also translates into communities, because like you just said, how do you want people to experience living here? Why would they wanna choose this? Do we also need to rethink about maybe people will only be here a short time? And maybe then they wanna go have another experience, right? And so, it may not be a lifelong let’s have everybody live here for 40, 50 years. Maybe we should be building more RV parks, instead of homes. (laughing)

That’s such a great idea. (laughing) That’s such a great idea, one of the things that I’ve been talkin’ about publicly about millennials, which I’m kinda sick of talking about millennials, but you kinda have to do it, right? Is that they don’t wanna stay at the same job for 20 years and work their way up the ladder. I brought up the idea, well why not make sort of a deal that says look, you come work for us for three to five years go outside, go somewhere else, get the experience you want, stay in touch, and maybe you can come back in 15 or 20 years when you’re ready and then you can become our leader, so have a strategy that says, we know you want to go out there, instead of fighting that, let’s enable it. Now could a community do the same thing? Like, yeah, could we have a piece of our community that acknowledges, not everybody wants to stay in one place forever, but you know we’ll keep the lights on while you go somewhere else and you’re always welcome to come back.


It’s not a failure if we haven’t kept somebody in the same space for 20 years. So I think I love that idea of stop by and come on back.

Well and we all learn when we go have different, new experiences, right? And so, we can bring such a richness back to those companies like that model you’re talking about, or even those communities. It takes a different frame of mind, but also leadership skills that are very growth oriented and different as well. And I’m a proud alum of your program in Houston, your certification for strategic foresight and that’s where we met and I was just so impressed by all these companies that are there, trying to really think about what the future needs to look like. And I also always have to add I was the only person from a university there at the time, so I’m hoping more universities get on board with what you’re doing down there, because I think it’s so critical. The other part you really touch a lot on is leadership and the importance of not only having this plan and being able to put this sort of framework together about the future, but also leading that. Would you tell us a little bit more about leadership now and how you see that evolving in the future to make these types of things happen?

Yeah, we think that the combination of foresight and leadership makes a whole lot of sense. If you think about what does a leader really all about? A leader is about bringing people into a future that is typically a little bit different, right? I mean, the real challenge of leadership is persuading people to come on a journey that involves change. And we have said, right when people join us for the first day, we say, look you are going to experience resistance to change, because it is a natural human phenomenon. Let’s have five minutes of complaining about it right now and then let’s just stop it, right. I mean, because complaining about people resisting change is it’s complaining about the sun going up and down, I mean that’s the way it is. So we do spend a lot of time thinking about how can we embrace it, work with it, and sort of bring it on our side so to speak. And that’s really what a leader has to do. How do I get people to change? And make that case to them in a way that seems favorable to them, right? And so I think that’s a lot of what we do is try to paint the picture of how the future could be better, here’s what the path looks like, so we try to make the future not a scary, unknown place. But, we shed some light on it. Say here are the possibilities, here’s what it looks like, it’s not that scary, come on the journey with us. I think that’s a lot of what foresight can bring to the leadership, is really some tools to help leaders do the difficult job of bringing people into a different future.

And speaking of those tools, what are some practical tools that you help leaders understand that they can use to kind of frame up the desired futures and those different scenarios that they might wanna think about in more detail and really choose to pursue, once they have a better understanding of what’s possible?

Sure, I think the fundamental concept that we talk about is, the idea that the future consists of multiple possibilities, that we just call it alternative futures. That is, even though we may be able to someday plug all the data in the world, all the variables into this huge super brain and hopefully press the button and out comes the answer, our view of that is that there are just too many factors to get the future right. But what we can do is, talk about the major kinda plot lines or stories about how the future could be different and that we’ve proven over time we can do. We may not know which, exactly which one’s gonna play out or exactly how it’s gonna look. We can definitely provide organizations with a preview of what the future might look like, such that as it arises that you start to see that future merging, you’re not surprised. We say the worst thing that can happen regarding the future is when you’re caught unprepared. You hadn’t seen it coming, we were blindsided, just that’s disaster, right? The idea of alternative futures is saying like, we want you to be ready, agile, prepared to respond, if you will, no matter how the future emerges. I think that would be one key tool that we think is important.

(Music Transition)

Let me put it this way, I think we create this line that there’s leaders and followers and I think the mega trend in that space is the blurring of the leader, follower line that we may be leading one moment and following the next. And kind of shifting or passing around that leadership role is really I think where we’re heading. And that does require that one is out in the field doing things and experiencing, if I’m trying to lead a group of people to a certain place, do I really understand what they’re going through? Do I know what their daily life is about? And can I experience that and really be a more effective leader from that perspective? So I’m not somewhere up in a hill, thinking big thoughts. I’m right in amongst the daily hubbub, kind of coming at it from that perspective. So I think that’s one of the changes that we might see coming in the leadership space.

Agreed, I mean I think, a lot of leadership was developed in that industrial age as well and so, it’s now an area that needs some fresh disruption itself. So I even have to question sometimes this whole idea, why would I want somebody else to lead me? (laughing) I mean, why would I want that? I mean I think if I’m really wanting to develop my own personal future, which I would hope more people would want, to take control of, I really have to question that whole concept of leadership and the way that you’re talking about it. That traditional context, just seeing. And I like to talk a lot about developing your own inner leader, your self-leadership, as well. And working in these sort of networks and working very differently, I think for people to want to live their life in a different way, much like we’ve talked about, how do we get away from still the more traditional command and control style, which is still very prevalent? And be okay with people in their independence and the way that they wanna live? And create these new models for the future.

It’s interesting in doing project work, especially with larger organizations and it can be private, as well as public, government agencies or education if they were involved, but they’re not, right? A lot of times, well you know, we can get this senior leadership if we can get them on board and we can get them involved and I agree that there is a point for that, but my experience is most of the work of change, the actual work of changing an organization doesn’t come from the top. It comes from somewhere between the middle and top, right? That’s the group that we need to be targeting. Who is actually going to lead the charge in real life? Like, who’s actually gonna implement this stuff? And I would much rather work with the implementers, the doers who are going to actually have to do it, and I’m not trying to knock senior leadership, but I mean, I think we have this almost this worship of you need to get the leaders onboard and a lot of times the leaders, they may set direction, and they may less, but they’re not actually doing it.


My own bias is to get with those leaders who are out in the field making the future happen, whether it’s an entrepreneur from the outside or it’s an intrapreneur from the inside. I think we can translate our foresight tools and say, all right, let’s do this. And then in a sense you present the le fait accompli to leadership. Like, we’ve not just talked about it, we’ve actually created this future. Here’s what it looks like. Here’s how we do it. Forgiveness rather than permission kind of approach. Let’s not worry about whether every single senior leader’s on board, let’s get enough support that we need and let’s go make the future happen and show ’em.

Well and that’s what we love to say about the Rural Future’s Podcast, is it’s for doers. It’s for doers, just people out there bein’ a maverick in some ways and creating the future, that one day at a time. But, really looking to create the future that they want and that they see is possible.

(Music Transition)

As we’ve talked about strategic foresight and future-ing, and as I’ve told you, I use a lot of your material for citations. (laughing) Because you have this great content, that really substantiates strategic foresight and future-ing, as a discipline. One lady thought I actually was looking at the stars trying to (laughing) figure this out. I’m like, no, nope, there’s actually tools and there’s strategies that we use, but you know this whole mix of methodology and mindset, I think is something too that in your materials comes out very clearly, I think. And a lot of prolific futurists really talk about, so blending that mindset and methodology, I think is such an important part of that. I know you have this huge network of alumni now, that have graduated from your program. What do you see your alumni doing as a result of work you’re doing at Houston? And also, in your consulting practice?

Yeah, I think one of the other key tools that kind of informs what people do with our work is we spend a lot of time sensitizing people about how do you recognize a signal of change? So we call it horizon scanning.


One of the things that all of us do is we’re always on the lookout for something that makes us go, hmm. And if you find yourself when you’re looking over however you get your daily information feed and you kinda go hmm. Like, we pay strict attention. So, we really have a method of doing that more systematically, but that’s the kinda thing we look for. When you see kind of a break in the pattern that makes us kinda give that funny head hmm. And make that funny sound, we go ah-ha, something has challenged our way of thinking and we need to make note of that. So a lot of what futurists do, our alums do, in the real world, once they’re outside of our academic program, is work in very much the typical organizations that I’m sure many of your listeners are in, inside a large organization, we often have little units of folks that are really trying to stimulate a whole organization to think about the future. So, for instance we’re working with the consumer products company right now that’s looking at the future of waste. What’re we gonna do with all that trash? The landfills are closing down, they’re filling up. Recycling is a little bit in trouble, because we can’t figure out how to make it economical. So what futurists do is we really try to think ahead to the future kind of problems and issues and say, look, now’s the time for us to think about this issue, where we have some, we have some wiggle room. We have some space to act. You don’t want to wait until the last landfills close to think about where we’re gonna put all this stuff.

Yeah, I mean, and do you think about the prolific growth of online shopping and delivery, and all the waste that creates, it’s just a totally different concept of how do we make this more sustainable over time? I don’t see that slowing down. What are the changes we need to make as a society to still support, especially as jobs go away, Andy, as we see this decrease in jobs people still like to buy stuff and use stuff. How does this whole economic model change? How do consumer patterns and behavior change? And how do we bring that to the forefront to create those preferred futures that affect communities, businesses, and people?

Yeah, I mean we shouldn’t scare people that jobs are going away, I remember I was talking about this with my daughter who’s going first year freshman, she’s like, I don’t know what to think. Look, we’ve got time, kinda the change that we’re talking about, where work becomes sort of less central to our identity. I mean, this is a decades long, this is a big process. It’s not gonna change overnight. Another thing that we’ve learned, even though we hear a lot about super rapid change again is that people will tend to slow that down. Even though, yes, we could automate all the jobs we won’t, right away, right? We have to integrate that into social policy, so even though we can see the end point, we know it may take a little longer than you think to get there. So, people are still at the center of this. So I’m actually working on a book called After Capitalism and it’s trying to look at the longer term future. Now keep in mind it’s definitely the longer term future of what does a world look like where we don’t have to go to work every day? Now the good news is, we’re still gonna be as wealthy and maybe even wealthier than ever before.

I’m so excited about your book. I mean, I think this’ll be great to see a long term view on some of this and like we’ve discussed, people don’t think you’re a little out there, you’re probably not doing this right. (laughing) So, I know you’ll have some really good stuff for us to all start thinking about. And I think “the sky is falling” is sometimes where this whole idea of futuring gets a little stuck. And that no, not everybody is gonna see their elimination of their jobs. Many times you’re really paying attention or if you’re talking to futurists, you can see these patterns emerging over time. These wild cards happen, but usually they’re not as sudden as people think, like you said, and new jobs will be created. New industries will be created. So, it’s not like the sky is falling, but also when I think about my grandparents generation and my parents generation, now ours. And specifically I guess I can refer to this in the United States, it’s amazing to see how well we live but still sort of take almost a negative view of that.

Oh my God, I won’t be able to work anymore. What a horrible future, right? I mean, it depends on how you view it, right? Obviously it’s viewed as a problem, because it’s our income is tied to it. But if we could deal with that part of the problem, I don’t think a lot of the folks would think, boy if I don’t get to that factory today I am gonna be so upset, right? I mean, you were talking about mindset, so as futurists we’ve learned to kind see both sides of it and that’s part of what we have to help people with, to see that the future isn’t either all bad or all good. It’s a really kind of a complex mix, and we try to kind of shed some light on those possibilities and say which ones do we want? Which ones do we want to avoid?

Well and that’s what we really been trying to do here, because a lot of times at rural we hearand I’m not discounting the challenges of rural, because they’re many and they are greatbut we have to learn to find the opportunity within that as well. And really have I think those conversations around what is possible here. It’s not gonna be what it was, but what do we want it to be? And so, I think those are the conversations that we can continue to have and I think people like yourself add a new lens to this. I mean even what you brought up about Detroit, I also have to learn that it’s not just rural points or challenges. It’s not just urban, but there’s this intersection of rural and urban where we could lift all tides, all boats together if we really had some strategy around that and some foresight to think about the possibilities.

Absolutely and I think that sort of reframing is kind of a good way to think about the mindset that a lot of what futurists train folks to do is to look at a situation and come at it with a different perspective, right? Can we reframe this from oh, this looks like a horrible problem to see the possibilities and opportunities in it? Which doesn’t mean it’s easy. So we don’t wanna minimize, oh, we can make every problem go away, but a lot of times we get stuck in a certain frame of how we look at things. Part of our job is to come in and kinda jog that frame and say hey, challenge the assumptions, challenge the model and say, can we think about this in a different way?

Yeah, I so appreciate that process. I so appreciate futurists like yourself who are really I think expanding the field itself and adding that credibility, but also have that experience of helping companies and even communities think through this. And so, that marriage I think of what you do in your business world, you know, you’re an entrepreneur yourself and I think that’s so incredibly important to have in our higher educations system, so I’d like to touch on that just a little bit. How do you see higher education evolving in the future?

We did actually look at the future of higher education a couple years ago, from the perspective of the student. Which is kinda funny that it’s noticeably absent perspective, most of the work on the future of higher education is from the institutional perspective. What does the institution need to do? So we thought it’d be fun to just kinda say, what are students likely to want from the institutions? And so I think there’s always a small minority of institutions that are at the forefront of change, and they see it coming and they’re doing what they can and usually there’s a mass of any industry, higher education, doesn’t matter what the industry is, as change comes at it will tend to hold on tighter to what got it in trouble in the first place. So, I think the mega trend in higher education is sort of opening up the possibilities of learning. Tearing down the walls of this is a classroom, this is a curriculum, and it’s kinda saying, what do I need to learn and I don’t need to be kind of confined by what’s in the established curriculum, right? So that’s this mega trend that’s been sweeping across and part of the response of the established institutions say, oh let’s make it harder to get in to school. Let’s make the tests more rigorous. Let’s do all the stuff that’s made us great in the first place, right. It’s what we’ve built our reputation on, so let’s stick to our knitting even harder in the face of a change, except it’s going in the other direction. So I think there’s a lot of that going on.

You start to see a lot of our sister and brother universities, other institutions double down on what they’ve always done. Maybe make it more rigorous, how do we add to this experience in the same way we’ve done. Like you’re saying, rather than how do we disrupt ourselves. How do we think about that end user? And think about what they want and desire? You know we have an online high school, here at the University of Nebraska. Which is a great thing for us to have, because even with this whole population piece that we see all the shift, there’s more of our people questioning even sending their kids to traditional elementary schools or high schools. Because if they’re traveling if they’re a Winnebago Warrior, they want their kids to learn what life can look like beyond the traditional norm and standard. And so how do we create this mobility, not just for adults, but for whole families in some ways?

There is a really important role for, if you will, established traditional institutions to provide some kind of common core, right? So it’s not that every organization needs to be entrepreneurial and different and experimental. But it’s more like, what’s my niche in the ecosystem? And we do need some organizations that are providing call it the stability and continuity to compliment the innovators who are around the edges of the ecosystem. So I think we could totally see a healthy kind of higher education ecosystem that has both, right, it has some established institutions providing that kind of core knowledge and it has the innovators around the edges, who are providing kind of the new and interesting and experimental stuff. And I think those things can co-exist. Gotta kinda acknowledge that first, right? It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it’s both.

It’s kind of finding your niche and your purpose again. Like, why do we need to exist? (laughing)

Here we are right, right back at purpose.

That’s right, very full circle. I’ve got a personal question, I would love to know from you Dr. Hines, how do you keep your futurist brain fresh?

It certainly helps to have a group of really intelligent creative graduate students to have to teach. (laughing) So I think that definitely, that keeps you going. One of the things that’s really been fun for me in the last few years, is I’ve really, we’ve done a lot of work around the sustainability stuff. I mean, that’s just been a huge theme. And I’ve kinda taken that into my fun time, where now I’m doing composting, I’m out gardening, doing a lot of sort of nature stuff. And I just love it! And I love kinda practicing and seeing, how does natural systems work, but it’s just great to kinda unplug from the world of overload and just have some time to kinda refresh, reinvigorate, and kinda let it all soak in. And I find that we come back to our work a little more fresh and revitalized.

Well I love that you’re doing that in Houston. (laughing)

I know, right?

I think that’s just, that’s awesome. Because I think too, we can kinda see this weak signal right, where people are wanting to unplug. We’re on all the time, so how do we unplug? As somebody with both a hard science background and a human social science background, the intersection of those disciplines and those sciences I think is so critical in terms of creating you used that word ecosystem a lot, in this interview and in so many ways we can learn from nature and those natural systems. Not only on how to build different models in that future, but also how to take care of ourselves I think in ways that always existed and we need to reconnect with in some ways.

Yeah and we actually teach, part of our curriculum, we teach called personal futures planning and it’s basically taking the same principles that we use with organizations, or government agencies, whoever it might be that we’re working with and doing that ourselves. Maybe as I’ve gotten a little older and more reflective, I’ve really tried to think about am I practicing what I’m preaching? I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of different sectors, industries, and groups of people and I’ve learned a lot from them and now trying to apply that more in my personal life.

(Music Transition)

Okay Andy, obviously I could talk to you for hours, because I always learn so much from you, and we so appreciate you taking the time to be on. We know you’re very, very busy. But I’d love to know what your parting words of wisdom for our audience are.

Well, I would say that thinking about our own personal futures is, I can’t think of a better advice, because I think if we have our own sense of purpose that we talked about. Having that sense of purpose and some sense of direction, it really helps you when it comes time for those pivotal choices, where should I go left or right. Having that sense of purpose can help guide you, kind of along those choice points, right. So I think having our own sense of how we would like our journey to go and then when we bring that to our organizations, that’s gold for the organization. Having a bunch of folks who have a sense of what they wanna do, where they wanna go, I mean give me a group like that and I think we can conquer the world.

I love that! That’s a perfect, perfect note to end on and I really appreciate that you’re using that strategic foresight, not just to teach so many others, obviously you’re making a huge dent in the world, in this space, by the work you’re doing. Again, you’re walking that talk, you’re using it personally, and you’re seeing the fruits of that purposeful, planning and thinking about your own future. So, that’s very cool I think to think about how others could use those tools in their own lives and really make things happen for themselves. That they desire to have happen, not just letting things happen to them. Andy, one last question I have for you before we sign off is, where can people find you?

Sure, couple different places in the web. HoustonFutures, all one word. Is a site that describes the academic thing that we’re doing that week-long trainings and things like that. So there’s way you can kind of learn about how to do this. And then my own stuff, I have a little blog which is really fun by the way, I gotta say, I really enjoy putting together my weekly blog post, and that’s at

This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Nine!

Alliance, Neb.

“I’m really grateful for the time I have had in Box Butte County and hope that the connections I have made here will stay with me forever. Rural communities are so valuable, and I look forward to using my leadership skills in one someday.”



We are in the last two weeks of our serviceship in Box Butte County and can’t believe how fast the time has gone! We are working on finishing our Marketing Hometown America video and compiling pictures and videos that we have taken so that Box Butte Development Corporation can use them for future projects.

“Haley and Mirissa have brought fresh ideas and a jolt of energy to the communities of Box Butte County,” said Alliance serviceship host team member Tabitha Unzicker.


Another part of our project we are working on is creating short videos to help explain Box Butte Development Corporation’s mission: “To enhance, diversify and maintain the economy of Box Butte County.” By creating these videos we will be able to help explain what Box Butte Development stands for, believes in and offers to their patrons.

Last week we volunteered for Bands on the Bricks which takes place every Friday in July in Alliance and the first Friday in August in Hemingford. We drove an ice cream truck around town to get some footage of people buying ice cream. We also worked on a Husker Prep advertisement and helped pick stock photos for the new Holiday Inn Express.

This week we went to a painting class for bonding time with our office staff. We will also be attending Heritage Days and then Bands on the Bricks Friday and Saturday night. We will also be volunteering at Sunday in the Park with Viaero Wireless to end Heritage Days.

“Serving, working and living in Alliance this summer has given me an appreciation for buying local, living in rural and being involved in my community.”





McCook, Neb.

This week has been a big week of event planning in McCook! During our last week, we will be holding a “Fiesta” to kick off the two programs we have been working on with Andy Long, Economic Development Coordinator. We will have tacos and fun for all in attendance as we present the McCook Mastermind Alliance and Accelerated Interns of McCook Program.

“With limited time left in McCook, the legacy we hope to leave is an enthusiasm for community and awareness of  rural Nebraska’s extraordinary potential.”



Additionally, we will be hosting a membership drive at the High Plains Museum, at which there will be snacks, music and a showcase of 3D designs we have created.

To showcase the 3D designs for the Night at the Museum Event, we have been continuously working on exhibit designs through a software called Sketchup. It is so much fun to work with, AND it allows us to give people a visual on what we see for the future of the High Plains Museum!

To prepare for these events, we spent a couple hours walking from business to business with Andy to hand out flyers. This allowed us to meet business professionals in the community we hadn’t been introduced to yet. While we are on the homestretch of our serviceship, it’s refreshing to continue to meet McCook’s stakeholders.

Along with having the opportunity to meet with businesses, we have also been meeting with people to ask questions about budgeting, fire codes and minute details of the museum planning process.

“Through RFI Serviceship, I’ve realized each individual in a rural community is so important. Every community member has a unique set of skills, talents and experience to bring to the table. Now I understand that’s how we move forward.”



Mark Graff, a local banker a significant stakeholder in the McCook community, has helped us with budgeting and getting connections with people who have financial positions. We were also able to meet with a state fire marshal to ensure the safety of the museum and see what potential changes or additions could be made to the Carnegie Library.

We have been in touch with other individuals who are excited to get on board with executing our plan of action. This has been valuable in ensuring that the community has interest in the museum’s future. All of these connections have been a vital part of the process in moving forward!




McCook THETA Camps

THETA camp is in its final stretch down here in McCook. It is crazy to look back on how fast this summer has gone and where we are at now. It feels like just yesterday we were rushing down to the radio station to promote our THETA camp.

We’ve covered a lot of ground to this point. Various modules have covered topics from aquaponics to nutrition to technology. All of our teachings have kept the students very engaged and allowed to them to relate the information we are supplying them to the real world right away. Although we have hit some road blocks along the way, as any good project will, it has helped as individuals by making us to work on our problem-solving skills to make the best out of the situations.

“The children’s willingness to learn and the opportunity to teach them pertinent information that we have learned throughout our undergraduate education is truly invaluable. Educating these kids about healthy life choices will ultimately make a lasting positive impact in their lives.”


Throughout our last week we will be focusing on our business module. This module is unique as it will allow us to apply our teachings directly to the community. Red Willow County Fair will be held in McCook next week, and we will be selling produce at the fair as part of our module. This is a great opportunity for us to show the community what we have been doing and the progress we have made throughout the summer. We also think it is great for the students as they can take our teachings directly into the community in a timely manner.

Looking back on the summer as a whole, we’ve had a great experience here in McCook. The community has been very welcoming and we are very grateful for that. We’ve really enjoyed the shadowing opportunities as well as the volunteering opportunities that we have been able to capitalize on.

RFI has really pushed us out of our comfort zones this summer which is a great thing. It can be very uncomfortable or awkward to be put in this position but this is where the most personal growth happens. It can be difficult to come into an unfamiliar, rural community without knowing anyone and trying to complete a project, but McCook has been very accepting of our presence. We’ve covered a lot of ground this summer and have worked to leave a legacy that will have lasting effects. This summer has been an amazing experience for THETA camp.

“The THETA students have really enjoyed this summer as we have challenged them as well as helped them learn new information that can be utilized directly into their lives.”





Neligh, Neb.

“Even with the challenges that hinder growth in rural areas, there are people who want to make the are better and are dedicated to seeing change happen. It is easier to go against opposition with people on your side.”


The last two weeks for us have been packed with meetings and scrabbling to get all that we can done in our remaining time in Neligh. We decided on a service project creating a strategic plan for the cemetery and cleaning up White Buffalo Girl’s grave. Michayla has been doing a lot of reading and research for the entrepreneurship curriculum she has been working on. We also led the Strategic Planning Committee’s meeting this week.

Last week on Jul. 12, 2018 we went down to Lincoln, Neb., for the Governor’s Economic Development Summit. While we were there, we attended sessions on agricultural development and alternatives to typical primary and secondary schooling that gave us ideas on how to implement these practices into our communities. Next week we are going to complete the housing survey and help with the county fair.

Some meetings we have attended over the past few weeks include: Neligh Economic Development Board meeting, Neligh City Council meeting, Clearwater Village Board meeting, Clearwater Economic Development Board meeting, Neligh and Clearwater Chamber of Commerce meeting, Fall Festival meeting and the Governor’s Economic Development Summit.

“There is so much potential in Neligh, it is exciting to see the opportunities that are going to become available from the passion people have.”





Seward, Neb.

We have spent the past couple of weeks trying to finish our projects. We have been working on planning our next two events and trying to come up with a club to take them over.

When reflecting on her serviceship, Maddie said, “My time in Seward has flown by. I am so grateful for Jonathon, Suzanne and Megan here at the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership for guiding and supporting us during our time. I am also grateful for all of the new people I have met along the way. I will definitely miss everyone here!”

“It has been a rather quick 10 weeks in Seward! I am happy to have gone through this experience, and it certainly helped me grow as a person and develop skills that I didn’t know I didn’t possess.”



Currently we have a newcomer event planned on Oct. 13, 2018, at Bottle Rocket Brewing Company during their Oktoberfest celebrations! Bottle Rocket has let us use a space for a few hours on that Saturday to welcome newcomers to Seward County. During Oktoberfest there will be a lot of beer, games, authentic German food and music! We are still trying to figure out the logistics of our other events due to a lack of reciprocation from the entities that we are currently trying to work with.

Additionally, the Newcomer & Resident Ice Cream Social was quite the success. It was held over the weekend, on the Jul. 15, 2018. We, along with Jonathan, were also interviewed by Karina from RFI before the ice cream social began.

The meet and greet group that we helped put together were present. Members of the meet and greet group made use of the opportunity to network with newcomers and residents.

It was fun to see people getting together and having a pompous community time. We were also able to distribute a survey to those who were part of the meet and greet group, to get feedback on changes that could improve the next events that will be taking place in the future.

“This serviceship has made me grow as a leader and has also made me more confident. I am so grateful for all of the new people I have met along the way.”


Episode 7: John Roberts intersects healthcare, tech, rural-urban dynamic





Rural healthcare access, overall wellness in rural areas and the future of rural hospitals are consistently present challenges discussed in the national narrative. In this episode, Dr. Connie asks John Roberts, Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association, to weigh in on these areas, but also talk about the opportunities of the future. As a member of the board of directors of the National Rural Health Association and with more than 35 years of experience in rural healthcare, John’s perspective on policy, technology and rural-urban collaboration is important for all of us to consider and understand as we shape the future of healthcare as a country. For example, did you know that rural hospitals are actually penalized for incorporating wellness centers? Did you know that rural healthcare providers earn the same level of outcomes in their areas of service but at 4 percent less cost than urban counterparts? Educating our rural leaders and residents along with our urban partners is critical, John says.

We hope you will listen in, rate our podcast and give us a review!

“Too many times I think we focus in on urban or rural, and you really can’t separate the two. Rural providers need urban counterparts for specialty services or services we can’t provide in rural settings and vice versa. When urban areas are being moved to this value based system, too, their incentives shift to try to make sure they get the patient back to rehab or other areas of rural Nebraska because they can do it as well and cheaper.“  
John Roberts
Executive Director, Nebraska Rural Health Association

About John


John Roberts is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association. He has more than 36 years of professional healthcare experience. John has been President of Midwest Health Consultants, Inc. for the past 16 years. He is responsible for the overall management and technical expertise of the consulting firm including business development & strategy, marketing, customer service and over-all project management


Show Notes

Hello and welcome back to the Rural Futures Podcast. I’m your host Dr. Connie. And joining us today is John Roberts who has over 38 years of professional healthcare experience and serves as the Executive Director of the Nebraska Rural Health Association, and he’s done that for the past 14 years. But John, I want to hand it over to you. Tell us a little bit more about yourself.

Well I’ve started my career in hospital administration back in 1980. I graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center with a health services administration degree. Went from there from Omaha to a little town in western Nebraska which was Ogallala Community Hospital and spend six years there as business manager, eventually the system administrator. It was a great way to get your feet wet, and I learned a lot about rural healthcare. And I think that’s really where my passion begins to develop and really love the people in rural areas. I really believe what rural providers do and the quality of life that they can create for their communities. So I left there in 1986 and came back to Lincoln, Nebraska. I worked for Nebraska Hospital Association as one of their lobbyist and your point person on small rural healthcare issues. And did that for about 12 years and then left there and started my own consulting company. We managed a couple of different associations. As you mentioned we managed the Rural Office Association, and I also managed the Dental Hygienist Association of Nebraska. So we do a lot of work with those organizations, do a lot of work with communities all across the state of Nebraska. I think I worked in every rural hospital in the state over the last 30 years or so so labor of love for sure. I also served on the board of directors of the National Rural Health Association. We’re critically involved with policy and things that are happening at the federal level and legislation and hopefully to improve the condition of rural health across the country.

Now we’re gonna get into more of that in just a second. And that’s a lot of the serious stuff about John Roberts. But I want to know too, I know our listeners want to know, what do you do for fun? Because I know there are some things that you do that I think everybody would be very interested in hearing about.

Well I like the usual stuff like golf and I do a lot of wood working in the winter time. But I love playing with my nine grandchildren who range in age from two to twelve.

I know you love the great outdoors and your family has a cabin on Lake McConaughy which is also Nebraska. One of our wonderful bodies of water. So I know you have that compassion for rural and hospitals but also this experience of rural and what that has to offer.

Yeah, I love getting out to western Nebraska. There’s a certain beauty to the Sandhills of Nebraska that you just cannot find anywhere else in the country, and I just love the culture. I love the communities in the greater part of Nebraska.

Well, here at the Rural Futures Institute, one of the things we’ve been exploring this last year are the questions of why rural, why now? You know, why should anybody care about rural that doesn’t live in rural? Rural population across the U.S. and in other places around the world is much smaller than it is when we compare to those urban centers. But I think your enjoyment of those great outdoors and the natural resources and beauty rural has to offer is part of the answer to that question. You can’t go just anywhere and have the experience that you can have in Nebraska Sandhills which I agree as is like a great secret, right? But if you truly want to experience the outdoors and what nature has to offer, that’s one of the great places Nebraska has to offer in terms of rural. With this question of why rural, why now, you know, rural health is definitely part of the huge conversation around rural right now. Why should we continue to have all of these hospitals or should we? What does the rural population need to look like and how do we provide health access and health care to them with those dwindling populations? So when you work throughout Nebraska and throughout the nation, how do you frame that? Why is investing in rural important and specifically in healthcare sector?

The way I look at it is that agricultural part of what happens in ruralnot only rural Nebraska but in rural America—is critical to our infrastructure and our way of life in the United States and, quite frankly, around the world. Rural areas of this country, including Nebraska, basically feed the world and the amount of agricultural food that comes out of rural areas is very important. And we’ve got to be able to support people who live in those rural areas, who serve them rural agricultural economy. And we need good healthcare for those folks in addition to the good schools and other things, we just need to have the infrastructure there to be able to allow those people to do what they do.

And speaking of the rural scene right now and healthcare, how would you describe yourself as a leader in this space?

I really think of myself kind of as a servant leader. My philosophy of leadership is unless you’re willing to serve those you’re leading, you’re probably not the most efficient and effective leader. So I really view things through that lens and I think that allows my leadership style to be able to get in and do the work and not really care about who gets the credit for it. But to really focus in on the outcomes and we want to get for rural America and creating a better and more sustainable rural health in Nebraska.

And speaking of that. I know you’re one of the leaders in Nebraska that’s really working on reinventing our rural healthcare sector. Please speak about some of the innovations in the leadership going on in that space right now.

About a year ago, several of us thought leaders in the state got together informally and started to talk about what we saw currently with the healthcare system in Nebraska and across the country, and then more importantly, what we could do about that as we move forward. We’re currently in a situation where, over the last five to six years because of several different policy changes at the federal level, we’re seeing a pretty rapid decline in the profitability and sustainability of many of our rural healthcare providers. And so we took a look at that and thought we can continue to go down this road we’re on, which the future doesn’t look real bright for many rural providers. Or we can do what Nebraska is kind of known for doing, and that is how do we collaborate together to create a better system? One that has higher quality and lower cost because that’s what government. That’s what business—that’s what insurance companies—they’re all looking for that and that’s what we’re seeing, a major shift in the last several years at the federal level. And I think we’re seeing a lot of states getting into this innovation of how can we recreate and build a better system?

So when you think about recreating and building that better systemI actually just published a paper called Strategic Foresight Leadership and the Future of Rural Healthcare Staffing in a journal, and part of that is to think about the disruption of healthcare, in particular rural healthcare. This is a three trillion dollar industry that the tech firms are getting involved with. You know, we see a lot of entrepreneurship, growth in the healthcare sector but a lot of it not necessarily focused on rural. A lot of it is focused on technology and technological solutions, and we’d love to see a little more innovation in the rural sector around some of this, particularly our rural areas and of course we’re focused on Nebraska because we’re both working and living here in many ways could be such a great playground of innovation for what could happen. Not just in rural but in urban settings as well, because there is so much going on in healthcare. So if you would look in your crystal ballI can always look in mine as a futurist. But if you look in yours John, how would you see our rural healthcare sector changing in the next three to five? What would that ideal future look like?

Well we’re definitely on a path of what we call volume to value which is changing the payment system for rural providers—not only rural providers but all providers across the country. And it goes back to this issue that we have a healthcare system spending that’s not sustainable over the long term. So we’ve got to look at ways we can increase the quality and the outcomes that we give for our patients, while at the same time lowering the cost of care for those outcomes. And so, we’re really seeing this big shift in looking at how providers can be reimbursed and incentivized to be able to take this value idea and provide high quality outcomes and high patient satisfaction, and when they do that, they will get reimbursed accordingly. The opposite effect too is if you’re not meeting those outcome standards and the patient satisfaction standards, you’ll be penalized. And so the incentives are beginning to change pretty quickly over the next probably three years.

So is that why I keep getting all those patient surveys after I visit a doctor? (laughing) Is that what’s going on there John?

Yes that’s part of it.

That’s what I’ve heard. But the one thing I wondered, and I’m sure you can shed some light on this is because it is shifting to more of a values based sort of approach and method, could we be using things like artificial intelligence, big data to help us understand those outcomes more broadly and more robustly? Are there some things happening in that space that you know about that are emerging?

If you look at over the last five years the number of venture capital that’s gone into healththese aren’t health related organizationsthey’re data and information systems, people like Microsoft, Sysco, a lot of different folks are looking at the issues you just talked about, on how we can use this data and information to do a better job with what we’re trying to accomplish and that’s high quality outcomes for our patients.

What advice would you give to somebody like a Rural Futures Institute? We’re part of the University of Nebraska, we’re system wide, and we know that healthcare is one of the—if not themajor issue facing our rural communities today. Now what advice would you give us in terms of how we could help organizations like the Nebraska Rural Health Association and others, to help find some innovative ways to provide solutions for our citizens and help keep people where they want to live and live the high quality lives in our rural communities?

I think slowly but surely rural health providers are understanding what we have to do to make this shift. But what we really need probably and probably what the organization could help us with is we really need to help communities understand what the shift is and what things might look like in the future. And that includes rural hospital boards, government leadership, community organizations to be able to make this transition and be able to do some innovative things in the state. I think we need the support of those community leaders and board of directors to be able to step out of the comfort of what they know and really start to look at what could be and how could we really redesign this system to better fit our communities. That may mean that all communities may not have a hospital, there may be different services that can provide in different regions of the state and that all takes a lot of time and energy to kind of sort through. And you have to have at least a basic understanding of where we’re trying to get to and how communities and leaders across the state can help us get there.

I appreciate that insight. I know that you’re a big proponent of sort of the co-creation with communities and having communities be part of this process and that’s so important for that innovation to happen. The future will look different then the present, and we all have a voice and a contribution to making that space. I was really interested when we had our pre-convo to get ready for this podcast, you mentioned that when a hospital puts in a wellness center they are penalized and so thinking about hospitals as economic drivers but also as center points for communities. I think it’s so important but then when you shared that with me, I thought wow. You know, here we have a lot of hospitals that are really trying to focus more on wellness not just sick care, thinking about what that might look like. But the system isn’t quite set up for that yet is it?

No, it’s really discouraging because I think everybody understands we need to move to this value based system. There needs to be more emphasis put on prevention, care coordination, chronic care management, all those types of things and yet. Currently, our reimbursement systems, mostly by the federal government because you have to remember a typical rural Nebraska hospital, 75 to 85% of their business will be Medicare and Medicaid. And so whatever reimbursement policies are implemented in those two programs has a tremendous effect on what we do and how we do it and how we get paid. The difficult part is making that transition to this new system where we might look at things like home healthcare or other types of wellness or preventative activities. But when we do that as rural providers right now, we’re penalized under the rules that currently preside over this reimbursement system. And so even if we have hospitals that want to make the right decision to do right for what’s in their community, they’re penalized for doing that. That’s the things we want to change as we’re moving forward.

You know John, I just think that’s so critical. You talked about the importance of communities and leaders being involved in embracing sort of this change in innovation, but it’s also the policy, right? And so I think that point you’re making is critical. I think it’s really great for listeners to hear that and think about that even as we see hospitals wanting to transition, sometimes the policies that they’re needing to abide by and live with are not really supporting an area of wellness and more positive living and lifestyles and that’s where we need healthcare to go.

We’re really interested in approaching the federal government which in this case is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, their innovation part of their department looking to develop a plan in Nebraska to really approach them to say give us an opportunity to make the changes that make sense for our state and our communities to try a different path of reimbursement system and policy and let’s see if it works and let’s see what we learn from it and take those learnings and apply those to other states across the country. We’ve seen that in a couple of states here in the last couple of years. Maryland has gone to a global budget and a policy. They are in their second year of that innovation project. And they’ve really produced some pretty meaningful results. The other state is Pennsylvania who just started in January 1 of 2017 in their innovation project and they’re gonna work over the next few years to try to get 30 rural hospitals to participate in their program and again it’s a global budget concept. It shifts the incentives for what providers do and like we talked about. Those incentives shifts go towards more prevention, more case management, looking at the things I think we need to go to.

I think it’s so great to have leaders in our state and around the nation really focused on innovation in this space. I actually have worked with several rural hospitals—one in particular in southeast Nebraska—did a year long leadership engagement with them focused on innovation. How do we, as leaders within those hospitals, innovate? Because we have leaders in those hospitals, and a lot of our hospitals do provide great paying professional jobs, they are a hub of our communities. They’re an economic driver as I said before and I think so much of the conversation about rural has been if the school closes we lose a community. I’m not disputing that there are challenges around that, but I think if people were concerned about depopulation before, if we see a closing of a lot of hospitals with nothing else to replace it and people don’t have access to healthcare, we’ll see even more people need to move to areas that have that healthcare access or choose to live there in any case and not choose to locate in a rural community.

Yeah, absolutely. Over the last 10 years about 80 to 85 rural hospitals closed across the country, and that’s more than we’ve seen in the last 20, 25 years. And a lot of those have happened in the deep south and so when you look at states like Georgia, where they’ve had probably 10 to 12 rural hospitals close, when you go back and look at those communities later, it has a devastating effect on their culture, their community, access to healthcare. But as you mentioned, most of the time hospitals are either the first or second largest employer in the community and they draw money from outside sources into those communities. And so it’s really devastating to the community to lose their hospital and lose access to those healthcare services.

I often think of our hospitals and healthcare systems as places where people can connect as well. When my father in law had to start dialysis they could no longer live on their farm in southeast Nebraska, and it was hard for them to uproot everything they knew, everyone they knew, their whole community to relocate. Not that other communities aren’t great but when you’ve lived somewhere for your whole life and then suddenly have to make a change like that just to have access to healthcare, it has other consequences for your mental and emotional and psychological well being as well.

You know, we can tally the direct cost of a hospital closing in a community, but there’s also the secondary or the intangible costs of driving an hour or two to get the medical care, taking off work to be able to do that. All those things are cost to not having those providers in your community. And the other aspect of it is data at the national level that shows that for the services we provide versus urban. It’s usually right around 4% less in cost and yet we produce the same kind of outcomes. And so when we see these rural hospitals close, you’re shifting people to other higher cost services which cost the Medicare and Medicaid program even more over the long term so that’s why we think there’s a significant policy that needs to be worked on at the federal and state level to kind of insure that these rural providers have the opportunity to be successful and sustainable long term.

You know that’s really fascinating just think about the interplay between rural and urban in terms of healthcare. I think there’s a technological aspect of that where technology is developed in urban can be used in rural and that’s a lot of the conversation around this but you bring to light something completely different. And that’s thinking about if we can keep people in rural and have that positive ROI in those rural facilities. It actually benefits the rural community but also the urban communities that don’t have to take on those additional loads so the work load is distributed a little bit differently. But then also federally in terms of the financial ROI to the government but ultimately the taxpayer is even better. So that’s a great piece of information for us to all learn and know about in terms of why rural, why now? How urban and rural work together in so many ways but also how this is a larger ecosystem in play here and I think so many times we separate rural and urban. But as we thought about it more here as the Rural Futures Institute, we really see it as a dynamic ecosystem where we all need each other. And what you’re talking about there really proves a point even in the area of healthcare so going beyond agriculture.

You’re absolutely right. Too many times I think we focus in on urban or rural and you really can’t separate the two. Rural providers need urban counterparts for specialty services or services we can’t provide in rural settings and vice versa. When urban areas are being moved to this value based system too, their incentives shift to try to make sure they get the patient back to rehab or other areas of rural Nebraska because they can do it as well and cheaper if you’re on a fixed budget.


(Music Transition)

Let’s dive into the technology aspect just a little more here in the conversation. What role do you see in terms of this technology being developed in healthcare? We know it’s a huge space right now, a lot of investment in this space. How do you see the potential of holograms, for example, used in rural healthcare?

Yeah, I think we’re on the verge of some major changes. We’ve gone quite a ways with what we call telehealth services in rural areas of the country which helps us provide services that we may not normally be able to provide or allows us to get consultation from outside experts which really helps our rural providers feel like they have a backup in Nebraska. We’ve implemented quite a few of what we call tele-emergency services where if you come and present yourself in a rural hospital emergency room, they can connect that to urban facility where you have a specialty physicians that are board certified in emergency medicine, consult on the patient and be able to provide those rural providers with consultation on how best to treat the patient. The other thing I think is gonna be really disruptive as we move forward is the whole smartphone technology. We’re seeing some real major trend shifts in rural areas of the country of people dropping their home internet services and relying strictly on cell phones, smart phones or their information and internet connection and again as I mentioned earlier, we’re seeing a lot of investment by folks in this area looking at how they can use technology to improve the health of people across the country.

Yeah, I think that’s really exciting. We have dropped our land line at home actually several years ago. We live in a rural area and our internet still isn’t that fast, and we thought it was gonna get a lot faster, still not that fast. My cell phone is my best source of connectivity, so I’m really excited about things like Doctor on Demand, lab-on-a-chip technology where you could potentially even diagnosis something in your home. I think that’s a tremendous development and seeing more of his happen at home is really exciting. Singularity University is a group I follow quite intently and they have this whole XPRIZE concept where they get this big purse of money together and crowd source from all over the world people that can develop it. And one of the things that they had actually funded, Qualcomm actually funded the purse, but a team actually developed the first tri-quarter. So if people remember back to Star Trek when you could scan your body with this instrument and it tells you what’s wrong and so now the first prototype has been developed and launched and they will continue to make that better and it’s actually developed for home use. It’s not necessarily, the intent wasn’t just for hospitals, it’s to have cheap accessible affordable healthcare wherever you are. And so thinking about the smartphone and other tools like that and how that could potentially help people all over the world and specifically in our rural communities when they don’t have access to a lot would be awesome or even in those crowded and congested urban areas where you can’t always get into the provider. Because we do have such a shortage of doctors and healthcare professionals around the world, technology could be a huge help.

I ran across the dermatology app not too long ago and thought, well I’ll give it a shot, see how it works. So I took a picture of my skin or some imperfection and sent it off to someone and within 24 hours I had a diagnosis of what it was, what the treatment was. It took care of the situation. I didn’t have to go to my primary care physician. I didn’t have to be referred to a specialist. I didn’t have to take time off work. What started as kind of curiosity at the end of it was really looking at wow that worked pretty well and I probably would do it again.

Oh absolutely. I mean I think anything that can save time and money but then also just create more accessibility and affordability is such a huge win. So I think healthcare is one of the most exciting spaces right now in terms of innovation in the future because we all need our health. Health is the basis of life and I think to be healthy is such an important part of who we are. We take that for granted a lot of times until something does happen and suddenly you’re sending a picture to a lab or getting a procedure performed or you find yourself on crutches and you forget how important health is. I think sometimes until something like that happens and it inconveniences you or worries you or even thinking about more long term challenges such as a cancer diagnosis. You know health is life and I think keeping that at the top of our mind is so important. That’s why making sure we have investments and great leaders like yourself in innovation. The space is so important. We thank you for that important work John.

Yeah we’re excited. I think one of the things that Nebraska is known for around the country is our collaboration with each other with providers and different communities, something we take for granted in Nebraska that a lot of other states just don’t have and we’re really gonna use that and test that as we look at how we can develop innovation to really solve these issues as we’re moving forward in rural health.

Well I would just make a plug for Nebraska out there to anyone that might be listening in the tech space. We’re a small population which actually makes us kind of like a start up for a state. I think our small population is actually an advantage right now and we are highly collaborative as you’ve mentioned, John. So thinking about how do we position Nebraska to be the place where innovation and rural healthcare happens and in a big way? So it starts here but actually can then expand to other states and other nations as well. You know we have a strong medical center, we have a lot of research but we also have a lot of people and a lot of leaders who are willing to do some innovative creative work around this to provide access to people and to communities.

(Music Transition)

I’d love for you to leave our listeners with sort of your top three leadership tips that they could use in their lives.

You know I think that when I’m counseling a lot of our providers and when I go to across the state, one of the things that they need to do is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We know we’re gonna go through a pretty major change in the next three to five years and not only rural Nebraska but across the country. And I truly believe that it won’t be the strongest that make that transition the best or the one’s that are most financially strong at this point. I really believe it’s gonna be the ones who can adapt to change the best and who are able to manage that change as we go through this process. So that’s one of the tips I kind of give them. The second one is to really look at what it is we need in our communities and really go back to that. Trying to break down our mental models of what we think the way things should be. For instance, we know that we can provide additional services outside of what we would call a traditional hospital. And to really begin to look at what is it that people really need? And how can we provide that? And get away from kind of the mental models that we’re kind of used to. And then the final thing is, I mentioned earlier is getting everybody in the community and across the state to really think about what’s happening. How we could take this apart and put it back together in a way that works for our communities and works for our state? And hopefully eventually can be a model for other states across the country as we make this transition to this value based system in healthcare.

I so appreciate your philosophy about the co-creation of the future with communities with people, with those end users and partners involved and I think definitely in this area of disruption of healthcare. That’s such an important piece of all of this. So thank you John.

This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Eight!

Broken Bow, Neb.

Just like the infamous taco truck showing its potential by making regular appearances around Broken Bow, our projects are starting to show their potential and even have begun to wrap up! We finished our promotion cards for Sturgis this past week and have plans to distribute them to Christian biker groups that ride through Broken Bow on the way up to Sturgis as well as the bikers that go to the neighboring town of Arnold this coming weekend for Devil’s Den. Devil’s Den is a biker rally in which they also do a poker run to raise money for several different causes.

“It really does seem like we just arrived and started on our projects yesterday, but that isn’t the case. The connections we have made and lessons learned have been super helpful in our projects and future plans.”



On Jul. 2, the YMCA project really got moving. During that morning, we and the steering committee, which we put together, met with Denny Placzek who is the CEO/Executive Director of the Kearney YMCA. The steering committee showed their strong interest in getting a YMCA facility to the city of Broken Bow. Denny had mentioned during that meeting that he has never seen such a driven group of community members determined to get things moving so quickly.

Because the National YMCA does not currently give out any more charters for new YMCAs, we would need to be a branch of Kearney’s. Due to Kearney being in the middle of their own capital campaign, we discussed that the next step for Broken Bow would be to bring an activities/programs director in. This way, community members can get used to the idea of using YMCA programming and then potentially move into a facility in a year or so.

On Tuesday, Jul. 10, our project continued to gain momentum as we went around to area YMCAs with a few members of the steering committee to address questions as well as get a better feel for what could be in Broken Bow. The members attending the YMCA tours were Andrew Ambriz, Don Cantrel, Veronica Schmidt, Jack Lindstrom, Leanne Gamet and Jessica Weeder. Looking at the YMCAs in Gothenburg, Lexington and Kearney showed what a potential YMCA in a community this size could look like. The different directors and CEOs we met with were able to answer questions as well as bring up topics that weren’t even thought of previously.

On Wednesday, Jul. 11, we had the opportunity to tour BD, a local medical tool manufacturer here in Broken Bow. It was amazing to see the scale that they produce things such as medical tubes and cups. The entire facility has such a rhythm and it was very cool to see how every part of the factory worked together.

“We have gotten so much more done than I could have ever expected here in Broken Bow. It has been so cool to have community members ask us about our progress and be able to say that things are really moving forward.”



Market on the Square continues to happen here in the community. The farther into the summer, the more and more vendors they have gotten. There is a wide variety of things from baked goods, to homemade jewelry, to food trucks that most of the businesses around the square support during the lunch hour. This week featured sidewalk sales and 92.3 KBEAR Country was on-location.



Columbus, Neb.

Recently, Dr. Helen Fagan asked us to think about the legacy that we are leaving with this community. The answer to that question revolves around the letter R. Recruitment. Reach. Retention. Results.

Recruitment. We post job openings, help design marketing materials, and help make connections that will benefit the community in the future. The best way to find out what and who Columbus really needs is to visit with businesses around the community. That has lead us to take several business tours while we are in town. This effort has also lead us to meet with various “movers and shakers” in the community. Columbus has introduced us to many people and we have been able to pick their brains on various topics related to their industries.

Reach. To reach the community and connect them with events around town, we have redesigned the community calendar, known as “GOOD Times,” and are running a campaign during the county fair to increase awareness. This calendar will include events from businesses and organizations from all around Columbus. Citizens will be able to look at the calendar and know what is happening on any given day and find events that they may be interested in.

Retention. These projects all relate back to quality of life and pride in the community. One of the quality of life events we helped with is Red, White, and Kaboom, the Columbus’s Independence Day celebration. We have also been running our 10 Days of Something Good Trivia Challenge. This event is designed to help bring awareness to the community brand and to encourage people to be proud of their community. The event is getting great traction on social media, which is really exciting! Another retention effort we are working on is the Young Nebraskans Week Conference that will take place in September. We are finalizing plans and working with our committee to gather speakers and sponsors for the event. On top of all that, we help plan and run Interns’ Night Out. This is an event for summer interns to get together and network as well as learn a little about what the community has to offer.

“Collaboration is a key element here in Columbus. Everyone is always working together. It starts with volunteers and continues up the chain of command. In this community, collaboration turns dreams into reality.”



Results. As the summer winds down, we find ourselves looking to our hosts to see what our role was this summer. Kara Asmus, Workforce Coordinator for the Chamber, said we are encouraging people to embrace the community brand, which is what the Chamber is really trying to do. KC Belitz, Columbus Area Chamber President, said that we are getting results. “The obvious answer is that you are getting work done. There are projects we wouldn’t have gotten to this summer. We never would have done them without you guys. Your internship may end in three weeks but you’re not going anywhere!”

In sum, RFI’s involvement in Columbus this summer has been invaluable to the community. Recruitment. Retention. Reach. Results. The Rural Futures Institute has allowed us to leave a positive legacy here in Columbus.




Cozad, Neb.

This week, we wrapped up our Music Mondays concert series. Music Mondays have been such a success that the Cozad Development Corporation is hoping to find another group in town to continue it next year. The past few weeks we have hosted Miles From Dublin, The Wonderful World of Woody, and wrapped up the series with a children’s band – The String Beans. Attendance grew with each concert bringing the whole community together for some summer entertainment.

“It’s time to think differently about our small communities. Cozad is taking a creative approach to solving challenges.”



Two weeks ago we hosted our three finalists for ‘Pitch It Cozad: Win This Space’ for their final presentations. Our selection committee had a wonderful time hearing the business ideas and had such a difficult time choosing a winner that we created a prize package for our runner-up as well. Jody Laird won our original building and prize package with her business Double L Embroidery. The Cozad Development Corporation purchased another building in downtown Cozad so that Chelsie Michalewicz could start her business, Sweet Water Outfitters, a western boutique. Cozad is excited to build their downtown as a shopping destination with these two new businesses.

Most recently, Jen and Christy headed to Lincoln for the Nebraska Diplomats Banquet and the Nebraska Governor’s Economic Development Summit. The Nebraska Diplomats are a group of community leaders who use their personal and professional connections to promote the state’s quality of life for future business. Our lead mentor, Jen, was asked to speak about our Pitch It in Cozad project at the Governor’s Summit the next day. Governor Pete Ricketts applauded Cozad’s work during his final remarks. It was an incredible opportunity to network with other community leaders and hear the great work they are doing.





Norfolk, Neb.

Time is flying as we are already finishing our eighth week in Norfolk, Neb.! We have been primarily working with the Norfolk Visitor’s Bureau lately, while also tying up loose ends on our projects for Daycos.

Our work with the Visitor’s Bureau has consisted of brainstorming and strategizing how we can improve the retail and service sector in Norfolk. We have completed our research of secret shopping and completing windshield assessments of businesses across town. We have attended a meeting with the Downtown Norfolk Association and other strong retail business leaders to discuss our mission in Norfolk and to get their perspective. Overall, we have found some common themes: strong customer service and cross-promotion are incredibly needed for the future of retail. Therefore, we have come up with multiple strategies and plans on how to upsell and cross-promote Norfolk. We have planned to host a focus group discussion on Jul. 16 with retail business leaders to share our research and talk about what changes need to be made. Essentially, we want to communicate why it is important to create an experience for shoppers and to refer other Norfolk businesses, then brainstorm different processes on how to do that. We are also in the process of creating strategies for incentivizing upselling in Norfolk, creating a customer service training program, marketing Norfolk retail as a whole and analyzing how to improve the retail options across town. We plan to give these strategies to the Visitor’s Bureau in their final portfolio at the end of our time in Norfolk.

“Making a difference is very possible through work in a small town. Norfolk has been such a positive example of a rural community with self-determination to constantly improve. It is inspiring to think about how Nebraska as a whole can be improved through work like this in rural communities.”



As for Daycos, we have started creating our final portfolio to give them at the end of the summer, as well. We will be facilitating a final meeting at the end of the month to share the videos, hiring process outline, and wall of aim projects that we have completed. We are very grateful that Daycos has treated us well during our summer in Norfolk. We are proud to have been a part of such a great company that we have learned so much from.

Additionally, we have continued to submerse ourselves in the Norfolk community. Big Bang Boom fireworks show debuted on Ju. 1. We were both invited to a behind the scenes get-together and were able to attend the spectacular show. We have attended a company picnic with Daycos to celebrate the beginning of summer. We have shared our project details with the Visitors Bureau Advisory Board. We have also been invited to attend and speak at the Rotary Club meetings. The Norfolk community has continued to be welcoming and warm, even after we have been here for some time. We are very grateful to be partnered with such a great community.

“We are so grateful to have Cheyenne and Samantha here this summer with us at Daycos for 5 weeks. We did not know what to expect when we applied to have RFI interns with us and were nervous that we would not have enough for them to do or have a clear enough picture about the outcomes we were hoping for with the work,” said Tammy Day, co-owner of Daycos, Inc. “How silly it was for us to worry! These young women have been an excellent addition to Daycos, are incredibly intelligent, creative and self-motivated, and have added so much value to our company that we are sorry we only have them for half the time. What a wonderful opportunity for us to work with such amazing young people who are interested in life and work in rural places. Thank you for matching Cheyenne and Samantha with us! We will be so sad to see them go.”




Omaha Land Bank

It is crazy that week eight is ending at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. With only having two weeks left at the Land Bank, Sydney and Kyle are excited to start finishing up and perfecting their projects. Sydney has been able to help with many different parts of OMLB.  She has been busy working on communications with Laura. Planning and setting dates for future social media posts has took up a large part of her time the last few weeks. She has also been helping Marty, the executive director, with documenting and updating certain documents on the OMLB company eProperty site.

Throughout this whole internship it has been a learning experience. Sydney has been able to help with multiple projects and loves having the variety in her day. She has been able to talk and understand what each person in the office does and how they contribute to the Omaha Land Bank team. Each of the team members plays a vital role in the success to the Land Bank. With the Land Banks success, it seems work will only continue to build up which is very exciting. Working here has really made Sydney realize the importance of teamwork and how well the Land Bank does it. She hopes to be a part of a team like this in her future.

This week through the Land Bank, Kyle had a chance to participate in a community project that was put on through the City of Omaha Planning Department. The City of Omaha chooses a focus area where development and change should happen in a concentrated area for three years at a time. This area focused on an old street car node today located at the intersection of 24th and Pratt. In this area there is a large vacant lot that measures approximately 125’ x 165’. The goal of the group was to first walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the area and the existing infrastructure. After about an hour of inventory as a group the Salvation Army hosted us to brainstorm and discuss with others what might best benefit the area. This grouping was of those not from the immediate area to provide a set of fresh eyes and recommendations for the Neighborhood Association in the area to look over and compare with lists they have made as well as those created by planning sessions held by the City Planning Department.

One major takeaway was to highlight that those in different areas all have the same desires for their neighborhoods and that different areas have strengths that may not be immediately apparent. Another fun fact was that the intersection was the original site of The University of Omaha. The chance to be involved in community development that will be enacted by mid-November is exciting as this is something I will see progress made on while attending school after I have finished my time as an RFI intern. In the last couple of weeks Sydney and Kyle will be looking for as many opportunities in Omaha as we can to learn from others and try to contribute a small piece of the larger picture.




Red Cloud, Neb.

In the last two weeks here in Red Cloud we have mostly been getting everything ready on our end for our economic development plan to be the most updated it can be for our presentation of it this Friday, Jul. 13, for city council and other members of the community. We have made a lot of updates, added a lot of information and have reached the stage where we really need feedback from key people in the community to know what we need to update and change to have it completely ready to go by the time we leave Red Cloud in less then 3 weeks. Our presentation on Friday will be given at two times during the day, and will have a PowerPoint accompanying it along with hard copies of the plan, and a flyer that summarizes the plan and the main actions from it.

We do have a final presentation planned for our last day here which will be to present the final copy of the plan and will be open to everyone in the community, but this meeting being one that is focused on getting feedback from the key members of the community it is mainly invite only. After this presentation we will be able to dive back into the economic plan and have our last two weeks to update and change it so that it is as effective as it can be.

“Looking back, it is hard to believe how little I had known about community development. In only a few weeks I’ve become far more competent and confident about what it takes to move a community forward.”



Over the weekend we had the opportunity to attend the Good Living Tour that was been hosted in Red Cloud this past Friday, Jul. 6. This was a great chance to attend a community event just as fellow Red Cloud citizens, and it was a lot of fun!

Other than working on our main goal these last two weeks and having some fun we have been working on some supplementary things for the plan and some other projects for the community. We picked up work on a clean up project that was started back in June, it involved working on a nuisance home in Red Cloud that the Board of Public Trust, a public group that buys and sells homes through the authority of the city similar to a land bank, owns, and is hoping to be able to sell soon. We were able to work on it this week and got all of the paint scraping done, so now it will just need painted, and a majority of the exterior work is done!

This week, Trevor has created the two resolutions and ballot language that will be needed to pass both LB840 and LB357. Meanwhile, Trenton as been working on getting everything ready for the city to apply for the leadership designation, which will most likely happen after we are gone from Red Cloud, but it is great to see the groundwork laid by him!

“Everything is starting to come together, and I can actually see what the final result of our time here will look like! I honestly never could have imagined that we could of created such a huge impact in this short of an amount of time, and I cannot wait to see what Red Cloud is able to do with the groundwork we are laying out for them!”


Letter from recently appointed RFI Interim Executive Director Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D.


Dear advocates of a thriving rural future:

It is with great anticipation that I write to you as Interim Executive Director of the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska, a role that I accepted upon the June 30, 2018, retirement of RFI’s Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder.

In assuming this role, I am full of hope for what meaningful action RFI can accomplish with you during the next year across the following areas of critical need and strength for rural areas:

  • Leadership
  • Technology
  • Rural-Urban Collaboration

I am also full of expectation—expectation for the kinds of futures we can design and build together in this time of constant change, growth and opportunity.


As a futurist, I must start with a discussion about the future—not just about a sustainable future for our rural areas, but our desired rural-urban futures. I see a future with:

Diverse and inclusive leadership that embraces differences in experience and skill set for mission, purpose and genuine personal growth. We must prepare ourselves and the generations of leaders to come.

“An inclusive leader is someone who is emotionally intelligent, who has the developmental capacity to bring people from all walks of life together and help them innovate and create things that didn’t exist before.”
— Helen Fagan, Ph.D.
RFI Director of Leadership Engagement

Continued exponential changes across technology, human ability and the point of innovation where the two infuse. With a realistic understanding of the challenges the fourth industrial revolution brings, we must think and strategize about the possible, not just the probable.

“I’ve looked at technology a lot for the past 30 years, and there is a graveyard of really cool, innovative technology concepts that failed to pass the people testultimately, technology has to be used by people. It’s really the interplay of how does technology meet a social or people need and, one might argue, that it’s actually the people and social needs that are more compelling.”
— Andy Hines, Futurist
Graduate Program in Foresight
University of Houston

A dynamic ecosystem of rural and urban challenges and opportunities overlapping and coinciding for win-win scenarios. Through our recent work with Microsoft, Tufts University and the Japan Society, we know our future is not mutually exclusive based on geography. In fact, we are incredibly interdependent on the success of each other. A mindset of abundance can generate new opportunities.

“To think that the challenges that are faced and the solutions are always totally different in rural environments, whether it’s in Nebraska or in Honduras, or anywhere in the world, and that they are also totally different from the challenges in urban areas—I actually don’t believe that. There are differences, but there’s also similarities.
— Tim Griffin, Ph.D.
Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment
Tufts University


It is also with great gratitude that I enter this role.

Gratitude to my family, friends, mentors, colleagues, members of the RFI team, and the students, organizations and communities that continue to support our work. My ability to serve in this role is only possible with the support of others, especially my husband and two children.

To Chuck Schroeder, thank you for your wisdom and your incredible relationship building with mavericks across Nebraska with whom we will continue to call upon out of incredible respect for their expertise, work ethic and fundamental belief in a thriving rural future.

To Mike Boehm, University of Nebraska Vice President of Agricultural and Natural Resources; Susan Fritz, University of Nebraska Executive Vice President and Provost; and Hank Bounds, University of Nebraska President, thank you for your vision. It is because of your leadership that the Rural Futures Institute continues the University of Nebraska’s priority to truly impact the lives of rural people.


I would be remiss if I did not provide an update regarding our recent past.

RFI’s budget reductions during the 2017-2018 fiscal year were wild cards that significantly impacted the trajectory we set out in our July 2017 strategic plan. We have removed staff, and we are now in the midst of transitioning our meaningful programs.

RFI Fellows. The formal commitments of the inaugural class ended June 30, 2018. The intention is to create a second, smaller class, but on a delayed timeline.

RFI Competitive Awards. RFI will no longer fund research and teaching projects; however, we will continue to share impacts and outcomes of projects in progress. We are exploring other opportunities to stimulate innovative research and teaching projects in conjunction with communities and partners.

RFI Student Serviceship. The summer 2018 experience will be the final experience under RFI administration. The program is currently being led and evaluated by Dr. Helen Fagan, and she is working to transfer leadership to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences.

Connecting Young Nebraskans. CYN has been transferred to the Nebraska Community Foundation, though it is our understanding that its vision will remain under the CYN Steering Team.

While these direct outcomes of the budget reduction are difficult, we are choosing to create needed focus for RFI’s energy and needed clarity around RFI’s role within the University of Nebraska system, the state of Nebraska and as a catalyst of innovation for rural areas around the country.


In my anticipation, I ask of all of us—together, let us be creative in our thinking, collaborative in our work, resolute in our strategy and bold in our storytelling.

Thank you for you for your time, dedication and advocacy. Our passion for rural areas in Nebraska, the U.S. and the world ignites our energy and our collaboration with you is the vessel by which we can work together toward thriving rural futures for all.



Connie Reimers-Hild, Ph.D., CPC
Interim Executive Director & Chief Futurist
Rural Futures Institute
University of Nebraska


Dr. Reimers-Hild’s Bio Strategic Foresight Rural Futures podcast

Episode 6: Dr. Helen Fagan intersects diversity, leadership, neurology





Diversity in our rural areas is going to continue to increase. Through this episode, leaders learn actions they can take to make this transition positive for themselves, their communities and those who they are welcoming. Featured guest is Helen Fagan, Ph.D., a U.S. immigrant whose experiences in three countries and five U.S. states shaped her perspective and informed her future. Dr. Fagan shares personal stories about her time in the U.S., navigating who she truly is as an Iranian immigrant while striving to be accepted. Difficult times and encounters inspired her to pursue research, teaching and consulting in the areas of diversity and leadership. Through her work she explores the definition of inclusive leadership and what actionable steps leaders can take to shed their implicit biases to create teams of people from various backgrounds and experiences for the sake of innovation and genuine personal growth. 

“For me, an inclusive leader is someone who is emotionally intelligent, who has the developmental capacity to bring people from all walks of life together and help them innovate and create things that didn’t exist before.“
Helen Fagan, Ph.D.
Diversity and Leadership Scholar and Consultant

About Helen

Helen has a BA in Human Resource Management and Economics from University of Nebraska in 1996, and an MA in Management with emphasis in Leadership from Doane College in 2008. Helen also studied International Economics and British Political Economy at Oxford University.  She finished her Ph.D. in 2014 in Human Sciences with emphasisin Leadership Studies at UNL. She has over 25 years experience in the Human Resource Field and has worked in many areas of the HR Field including Training, Benefits, Payroll, Recruitment and Diversity.  Helen became a Certified Diversity Trainer through the Society for Human Resource Management in 2001 and qualified for administering the Intercultural Development Inventory in 2006.


Show Notes

Hi, welcome back to the Rural Futures podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Connie, and joining me today is Dr. Helen Fagan, a leadership and diversity scholar and educator whose passionate about developing global leaders to create better tomorrows. Thank you so much for being here, Helen. Please tell our audience a little bit about yourself.

Well, hi, Connie, I’m so excited to be here. It’s so fun. Well, I am from Iran originally. I have lived in three countries, five states in the U.S. This summer, I will celebrate 35 years of marriage to my favorite human, Scott. We have two incredible sons who I am just delighted to be their mom, and they married just brilliant women that I love that I have girls in my life as my family now, and I’m a nana! I became a nana last October, and Beckett is my pride and joy right now. He’s giving my husband a run for the favorite human spot.

I can imagine that. You know, I also appreciate, not only your expertise in leadership, but the way you live your life and let yourself in. Having your family as such a top priority for you is so impressive. But also even the way you’re speaking about your daughter-in-laws, now that doesn’t always happen with mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, and I just have always honored and appreciated that about you, because you really walk the talk when it comes to leadership.

Oh, well thank you, you’re very generous with your words, and I so appreciate it, Connie. I think one of the best things we can do as women is to support other women in our lives. I believe that’s one of the things that leaders, especially, need to be doing, whether you are a person in a position of leadership, or you are just an influencer in other people’s lives, it’s important.

I so agree, and I think it’s such a great time in history to really bring forward the fact that our families are important, even if we’re in traditional job settings, or leadership roles, or we’re entrepreneurs, or whatever the case, I’ve been recognizing that people want whole lives. And in being in a leadership role or spot in an organization shouldn’t exclude family and life. In fact, I think as we transition, we’ll talk about the future of leadership, through our conversation, embracing this whole living, especially as we have more dual working couples, is just so important.

Absolutely, and one of my firm foundations in leadership is that we need to get away from either or thinking. Either I am a leader, an executive, a professor, whatever I am, or I am a mother. We have to embrace it and we have to give space to both of those to exist. People, I think they get the idea that it means going 100% all the time, and that’s not the case. I need to give time for each of those things and that doesn’t mean I can be all things to all people at all times.

That is so true, and I think we need to help organizations understand that, what it means to be truly flexible and not just say it. That’s why we see women leaving traditional jobs to create their own so often. They need that flexibility, but they also need the autonomy to do what they want to do how they want to do it. They create environments that really are supportive of them and them building their own futures. I’m a huge proponent of developing your inner leader, you know, leading yourself. I think for too long we’ve seen as leaders what you’ve just described. It’s the CEO, it’s somebody with a title, and everybody else is just supposed to follow along. That was a very industrialized view of leadership for scholars and practitioners like yourself to come forward and really champion, not only in organizations, but with students, the next generation, new paradigms of leadership.

Absolutely, and I am right there with you that we’re in a new century. We are in an opportunity to where we don’t have to have a start time and an end time to our work. We can be fluid in that, but we also need to be setting boundaries that are healthy, boundaries that say that it’s okay for me to appreciate and enjoy my family at the same time as giving out of my expertise and my passion. I don’t have to choose one or the other or sacrifice one or the other. There was a research study that was done that was looking at women who had been stay-at-home moms not seeing themselves as leaders. It was really helping them to understand that leadership, the definition of leadership, is about who the person is and how they’re influencing other people. And so I think if we can do that for women, if we can model that for young women who are coming up, my students, graduate students, being able to say, “It’s okay, you can enjoy motherhood, and you can contribute from your professional life and your expertise and your knowledge and your passion.”

And you know, that’s what a lot of students are asking. What we found at the Rural Futures Institute is that students intern here or wanna be part of a serviceship experience in a community, which you’re leading for us here at the Rural Futures Institute, but at the same time, they’re really wondering how adulting works. What does it look like to grow up and live my own life and build what I wanna build? We’ve seen a few students graduate and go out into the workplace and come back, and they’re like, “Oh, Dr. Connie, I didn’t expect this. It’s not like working at RFI (laughs). How do I deal with this difficult boss or this culture I don’t enjoy or fit into?” And I think sometimes we’re still in this transition era of what does it look like to be inclusive, which is an expertise area of yours. But also does this future of work look like? Just like you’ve mentioned, this whole idea of clocking in and clocking out doesn’t work because first of all, we’re expected to always be on. There’s really, I think, a global shift in how this is all gonna continue to change and we need people that are willing to step out and do it differently with our students, but also our own children and grandchildren, right? I mean, teaching them how the world can be in a different way is so important.

Absolutely, I have a sister who’s 16 years younger than I am, and so she is in her late 30s and a new mother. Her baby just turned a year old and she is really struggling with how do I remain passionate to the pursuit of medicine as well as remain a mom and be able to give to my daughter and model the way for my daughter, and in so many respects, she’s looking to me for that. I was late in life getting my Ph.D. I worked and went to school and was a mother and was trying to balance all of that, and I remember when I worked at Bryan Hospital, I remember saying to my boss when I got a promotion, “I need to work only four days a week. I want to be available for my family.” And it was the first time someone in a position like mine had requested that, and he was totally open to it, and he made it work for me. That was one of those places that it gave me this internal confidence that if people want what I have to offer, they need to be able to work with that flexible schedule that I’m offering. At the same time, I am very driven and committed to being available when necessary, but I do have concrete times when, one of the things that I talk about leaders is that leaders have to be able to be still. They have to remain present, they have to practice that, so I have to practice that. So I don’t want people to think, “oh, I’m available 24/7.” There’s a part of me that is available then, but then there’s a part of me that says, “No, I’m gonna turn everything off, and I’m gonna be fully present here.”

I think that really questions this sort of era we’re coming out of and you’ve gotta be the all things to all people, you have to multi-task, and sort of this over-busy, like “Oh, I’m so busy. I’m so busy,” and thinking that’s a badge of honor, somehow, because in reality, you aren’t as productive, you’re typically not as happy or engaged, and eventually you burn out if that’s truly the path you’re on. And I know in our case, my husband and I both work, I’m late to motherhood because I had the opposite sort of trajectory as you did in terms of focusing on school and career first and having my kids later in life. But then I found I was still married to my career, like it was a huge part of my ego and my self-identity, and that’s challenging, too, because then suddenly you’re having to let go of that and think, “How now to do I make this family work in a different way,” much like your sister is asking and I’ve had to really rely on a lot of co-moms, I call them, in my neighborhood, because my family doesn’t live close to where we live, either, so I have co-moms that help in every single way, and I’m able to support them and they’re able to support me, but it’s having that community that’s so critically important in making all this work, but then also, what I appreciate about what you said there, Helen, was the power of the ask and the confidence you had to say, “You know what, I am worth this, and if you need this, this is what it’s gonna take for it to work for me.” And I believe that when we do that, we empower other women to step into that as well, and that’s part of our role as leaders in this sea sort of life. Helen, we talked a lot about women and really the changes that are needing to happen in the space of leadership and female power and really being inclusive in that arena. But what are your thoughts about the changes in the dynamic of families and cultures as well where we see dual working couples now for almost the first time in history, and having kids or choosing not to have kids, and how all this is evolving, so that we’re even seeing stay-at-home dads?

That’s a great question, Connie, it’s actually really an exciting thing, because I love seeing families being creative in how they’re addressing this dual working or who’s gonna stay at home or what will that look like, and I’ve seen multiple things. I say we give permission to people to say, “We need to do what works best for us.” And so, societally, we need to stop shaming men who stay at home as fathers and shaming women who work to provide for the family. So I feel like as a society, we need to be supportive of those creative ways that families are making it work.

Families just happen so many different ways now. Being open to how that works and what people’s lives are about, I think is just so critically important.

Absolutely, and if it works for a family to do the traditional thing, where it’s mom who stays at home, or mom doesn’t work and chooses to stay home, hey, if that works for that family, that’s equally great. So I don’t want people thinking, “Oh, we’re gonna throw out traditional way of thinking in light of this other way,” that’s again, either or thinking. What I wanna say is, we need to be okay with any type of format that a family chooses to take to make it work for that family, and the best thing we can do is come alongside them and support them.

I tell you what, some of the hardest working people in our world are single parents. I so admire what they do to support their family, financially, emotionally and everything else, and it’s just so timely to have experts like yourself working on these big issues to say, “What does this modern life look like? What does this modern era look like? How does this evolve into the future so the future work changes, the future family continues to change, the future of society continues to change as people are looking for more passion and purpose and trying to make all these things work together?”

(Music Transition)

For me, an inclusive leader is someone who is emotionally intelligent, who has the developmental capacity to bring people from all walks of life together and help them innovate and create things that didn’t exist before.

Can you provide for our listeners an example of how you’ve done that in your consulting work?

So I will give you the example of one particular person that pops out in my mind, an individual that I have worked with, an executive. He is a police officer, he’s a chief of police in his community, and basically during his graduate program, he had to go through some coaching, and by coaching I’m not talking because he wasn’t doing things well. I’m talking about helping to increase his capacity as a leader, and so being able to coach him, to help him to understand how do I shift perspective? And one of the ways that I challenged him was to say, “Who wouldn’t you want your children to bring home as their future spouse?” You identify that individual, that population, so to speak, and that’s your implicit bias. And if you can hold yourself accountable in situations where your implicit bias is getting in the way of you being effective, then to me, you are stepping into that inclusive leadership zone. And that takes vulnerability, it takes courage, it takes a certain level of self-awareness, awareness of the impact I have on other people, which ties into the whole emotional intelligence piece.

Yeah, I think coaching is growing in popularity and I think people are starting to understand the impact that it can have. I mean, I have a coach myself, and I do coaching. Really, a great coach can help you uncover those things you aren’t seeing yourself. And it sounds to me like that’s exactly what happened with this individual.

So I’m not gonna be his coach for the rest of his life, right? My hope is that the lessons that he gleans through that process, he will be able to use that same process to glean new things about himself as he has new experiences. That’s always my hope when I coach executives and also in the classroom. One of the things I do is I ask that same question of my students, and they will list off everything from someone who’s homeless, someone who’s got a criminal record, someone who’s transgender, someone who’s of a different religion, a wide range of things. And I say, “Okay, great. Now I want you to go out into the community and I want you to serve that population.” Because it is extremely difficult to serve and get in close proximity and keep my biases.

Why is that, Helen?

Because most of the time, our biases are formed based on little information, overgeneralization. One of my areas that I absolutely love is neuroscience and what we’re learning about the brain and the human capacity to exclude without even recognizing that they’re excluding. And so the idea is that we wanna develop the prefrontal cortex in these young adults, because that is where inclusion begins to take shape. Our limbic brain is the part of our brain that says, “Hey, I like things that are like me, and I wanna hang out with people that are like me, and I want things to be easy.” So that’s where we form these biases. But when we actually encounter who are different than us, that destroy those preconceived notions that we have, we begin to question, is this bias true? And it’s hard to be loyal to that bias for any length of time once I’ve had exposure to a particular population that I’ve spent time with, that I’ve gotten to know them, gotten to know their story, gotten to know their challenges, their life history. I’ve gotten to walk a mile in their shoes, so to speak.

I think that’s where this great awareness of experiential learning, neuroplasticity, you know, that brain science piece and how these things relate is so important. So, not just talking about the importance of all of this, but actually doing it, experiencing it, rewiring your brain through those experiences, to make yourself a better leader and person, but ultimately, to help others as well. There’s such an exponential effect when we expand. So okay, I wanna expand on that a little bit myself, Helen, and I have a question for you that I really appreciate your insight to. What advice would you give the Trump Administration right now in light of all that’s happening with immigration?

So I wanna preface what I say with the idea that I am not in their shoes. I don’t know how they’re seeing the country. They have access to information I do not have. They have access to content I don’t have access to. Given all of that, I also would challenge them to walk away from what they know for a short season of time and spend time getting to know individuals and people’s stories. I really want to have them to move away from this polarizing thinking of either this is good or it’s bad. I want to get them to a place they’re thinking both and. We can have a good rich U.S. and value immigration. We can have a good relationship with education as well as business. So the idea of and both, I want them to get away from the polarizing. In my work, in my data that I’ve been collecting with the intercultural development inventory, the continuum, I have seen a shift from one developmental level to a lower developmental level, which we call polarizing, in people that I have been assessing. So I’ve been doing this for over a decade, giving this assessment to my students at the beginning of the semester, at the end of the semester, giving it to graduate students, giving to individuals that hire me for coaching, organizations I work with. What I’m seeing is this shift, a societal shift, to this polarization, and I cannot help but think that is as a result of the message of the leadership that we’re hearing. It’s either this or that. Either we’re a good, strong, Make America Great Again, or we’re for immigration.

Everything seems to be so extreme. It’s not a thought of abundance, it’s of lack. But I also appreciate what you said in the beginning. How do we understand this in a deeper way? We don’t know exactly what’s happening and why the decisions are being made, but at the same time, if we would take some time to spend time in the shoes of other people, to think about how this might look, we would come out with more innovative solutions and ideas that could potentially just be better and more robust than the either or back mindset.

Absolutely, in the work that I’ve been doing, I have seen us being able to shift that. We can develop in this area. We can grow in this area. I’d like to share a couple of stories with you of how I got interested in all of this. My dad was an executive for the national Iranian oil company, and he traveled all over the world, and he wanted his kids to be educated in another country and that’s the reason we moved to England when I was very young, to go to school. And then later I moved to the United States to go to school, so the U.S. wouldn’t give visa for my parents to stay. It was only my brothers and I got to stay in a boarding school. And two months after we got here, the U.S. hostages were taken in Tehran, and all of us Iranian students were loaded up on a bus and taken to Orlando International Airport, and we had to report in, and all that stuff, and getting to stay in the U.S. wasn’t exactly a cakewalk. There were people that were “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” and all kinds of stuff going on. So I hid who I was for a very long time. I hid that I’m Iranian, when people would say, “Where are you from?” I’d say, “Where do you want me to be from? Where do you think I’m from?” And I was where everybody wanted me to be from. I learned to assimilate, what I call forced assimilation. It was forced upon me as a way of getting along with people here, so that sense really impacted how I saw myself, how I saw my heritage, how I saw how I could contribute to society. I had to hide a part of myself in order to be able to contribute to society. It wasn’t until this event happened with my father that I really stepped out into it. My dad came to visit me for a month. I hadn’t seen him in a few years. He had a heart attack and then later a stroke after he left my home and he was in this hospital. He had the kind of stroke that was called the locked in syndrome, so a piece of plaque from his carotid went into his brain stem, and he was locked inside of his body until his death eight months later. He couldn’t understand any other language except our native language, even though he was multilingual. He was an executive, he traveled the world. So here he is in this bed, and we’re trying to communicate with him, he couldn’t move any of his body parts, he couldn’t speak, he could nod just a little bit, and he could blink yes or no to our questions. So I’m speaking Farsi to my dad, I’m in the room, and in walks this nurse who’s training another person and the nurse is asking questions and I’m speaking Farsi to my dad, and I’m kind of thinking, “Okay, I think I know what he’s saying based on his look,” and I’m giving the information back to the nurse, and she gets frustrated, and as she’s walking out of the room, she says under her breath, “I wish they would learn to speak English. It would make our job so much easier.” It triggered something deep within me. I followed her out of the room, and I laid into her. I tell people I verbally vomited on this poor nurse. And I’m sharing that to not say, “Hey, I’m great, and I was justified in what I did.” I’m sharing that to say that it triggered something in me and at that point, I thought, “I wanna do everything in my power to ensure that that doesn’t happen to my father again,” or to any other person’s father, or to anybody else’s family member, whoever that person is. So then when I moved to Nebraska and began working at Bryan Health, I created this Diversity Cultural Competence, and doing the training and the work in that arena, fast forward several years, and we have a situation that really got me thinking, “Wow, how did we go from the situation with my dad to the outcome of this situation?” That particular situation was a 12-year-old boy had been hit by a truck while riding his bicycle in his community, and he was brought into our trauma center. Our hospital had a trauma center, and by the time the family arrived, they were told that their son was brain dead, and the chaplain that was working with this family was on the diversity council that I led at the hospital. He approached the family about organ donation, and the family requested to have a family member in the operating room at the time of the retrieval of the organs. Well, this was against hospital policy for multiple reasons. But here’s this chaplain, instead of saying, “I’m sorry, it’s against hospital policy,” he says, “Help me understand what makes this important to you.” Just that simple question got him access to information. What he found out was this family was Native American and they believed that the spirit of their son rested in his heart. They wanted the heart to stop beating, the spirit to be set free, and they chose the uncle to be in the operating room to be able to say prayers so that the spirit wouldn’t go on living in someone else’s body. That was their belief. The challenge for us was to get people from different parts of the hospital, decision makers, to come together and agree to allow this to happen. When that happened, we were told by Nebraska Organ Retrieval System that that was the first time in the 25-year history of organ donation at that time, that a Native American family had said yes to donating the organs of a loved one.

Wow, I mean the power of seeking to understand, and not making assumptions is just so incredible, isn’t it? And I admit I had to grab a Kleenex when you were talking because if you have to hide who you are to fit in, I think is something that is a struggle for so many in so many different ways, but I also think it’s been a gift in so many ways, too, as well, and to all of us, to be honest, to have somebody like you who has taken that experience and really has just turned it into a prolific practice in both your business, but then also what you do at the University of Nebraska, here at the Rural Futures Institute, and so many ways beyond that. I mean, you’re even consulting for movies. (laughs) Yeah, I think that fascinating, but I also think it’s helpful in terms of moving away from this culture we seem to have right now of polarization to that inclusive culture that really is more global and really finds innovations that are workable for everyone so it’s not a lose-lose, but it’s more of that win-win.

Absolutely, and so that is exactly what got me interested in researching this. How do we get people to come to that level of understanding? How do we do that? And I have found a process for making that happen, and it’s so exciting to watch these young people who have hidden part of who they are for up to the time they enter my classroom, anywhere from 19, 20, 21, all the way up to 55, 60, 70-year-olds, and it’s giving them a place and a space to fully step into who they are and accept that other people, when we allow others to be who they are, fully who they are, we create opportunities. We become more innovative in our thinking, in our problem-solving, in our approach to how we increase participation in the community, in an organization. It just totally changes the way we engage with the world around us. And that’s what’s so exciting for me is, one of the areas that I really want to study is how do parents who level of self-awareness, and emotional intelligence, and their developmental readiness for engaging with people who are different, how does that impact the way they raise their children?

Right, because even as a parent, I want my kids to be global in their perspectives and their thinking, very inclusive, but also very brave and being able to stand in their own power, because parenting is an interesting experiment in itself, right? I mean how do you do all of that as a parent to make sure your kids are the best of who they can be, not just to themselves, but to others, and really, then preparing them for a world that’s gonna be much different than what we grew up in.

Absolutely, in our grandparents’ day, our grandparents were competing with other people in their own community, in their own area. In our parent’s day, it was people in another state. There were people applying for jobs from other states. In our age, we’re competing for positions and opportunities globally, and so how do we prepare our students, our children, to be able to not just compete at that level, but to be excited and thrilled to be engaged at that level of thinking and being? How do we do that, and that’s an area that I’m really interested in studying.

(Music Transition)

I wanna ask you to look into your crystal ball, become that futurist for a second. Tell us what you see in the future in terms of your expertise.

What I see is that individuals who have created, I actually started calling it this super-power. They’ve created this internal super-power, this capacity of being resilient, of being able to shift perspective, of being able to see issues that others are missing and then bringing people from all different walks of life to address those issues, that is a super-power, and I believe as we continue the advancement that we’re learning from neuroscience, what we’re learning from global leadership studies that are happening, what we’re seeing, even in our own RFI interns who are going into these rural communities, the insights they’re gaining about themselves, I feel like that is the kinds of opportunities we need to create for people. We need to help people to be able to see the perspective in that way. So understand yourself, the impact you have on other people, is based on the beliefs, the values, the experiences you’ve had, but also be able to be totally thrilled and excited to the be in the presence of people who are different than you, because I believe we connect with people who are like us, but we absolutely grow the most when we have to engage with people who are different than us. So what opportunities can we create for engaging with people who are different than us as well as connecting with people who are like us? Human beings, we need both.

Well, and I so appreciate that, and I just wanna say to the world we are so excited that you’ve joined the Rural Futures team, and the wisdom, the scholarship, but also just the leader and person that you are, to help us with the rural serviceship program, but really expanding it into something new and different so it’s more transformational for students and communities moving forward, but I think the other thing that you bring to all of this, Dr. Fagan, is the fact that we can break some stereotypes about rural and urban as well. Too often we talk about rural or urban, it’s rural versus urban, it’s that polarization again, and we need to really realize that we live in a global ecosystem that connects our worlds together and that includes rural and urban centers because they all rely on one another, and to make this work in a sustainable, forward-leaning way, and so for those students to have these experiences, I think is just fantastic. For communities to have the experience, great, but it makes me wonder as we move forward how would you envision breaking down the stereotypes of rural versus urban and bringing those worlds together in a more collective, cohesive, and innovative way. I would encourage people, I would challenge people, if you’re in an urban setting, to step out into a rural setting and find the positive. I think we need to create opportunities for urban populations to experience rural, not as an I’m gonna get away from it all and go to the rural setting, but as a how do we take what’s so wonderful about rural and bring it a part of our urban setting, and vice versa. How do you take something that is so wonderful about urban and include that in part of what we do in our rural setting? And so the experiences we offer our students is powerful, I believe, through RFI, and I’m so excited and thrilled to be joining the RFI team, and to be working with someone like you, Dr. Connie. I’ve read what you’ve written, I’ve listened to what you’ve shared, and I’m just excited. I think it’s gonna be a win-win for all of us and we’re gonna learn so much together and I believe that our life trajectory has been so different, our backgrounds have been so different, that out of those differences we are going to be able to create exciting new opportunities for both our urban and our rural, as well as global environment for our global students.

Well, thank you, Dr. Fagan, I so appreciate that, and I also appreciate the fact that your bringing up global, because one of the things we see at RFI is, of course a lot of our work happens in Nebraska, but we are involved nationally and internationally as well and really intend on expanding that because many of our rural issues and urban issues are similar is what we find and we come to the conclusion through visiting with Tufts University, Harvard University, other partners like Microsoft, that we need to ask better questions. And that is not a question of rural versus urban, but it’s how do we collectively move together. But then also, what is the future of rural in terms of being more inclusive and diverse? Because the populations are shifting, while some population loss is happening, we also see the migration of different people and patterns in many of those rural areas, and I think as those populations shifts and demographics shifts continue, communities themselves are asking, “How do we become more inclusive? What more can we do to be a welcoming community? How do we get people here but also keep them here? And, how do we make this work if we become smaller?” So there’s so many great questions around that, but there’s some innovative solutions as well.

I tell people we need to ask both why questions and help me understand questions. The why questions are necessary because they help us to defend our position, but the help me understand questions are necessary because they help us expand and shift our perspective. And so we need both of those. So asking good questions involves both of those types of questions, but also being willing to listen. Not listen to answer, but listen to learn and connect and understand.

Well, thank you. I think that’s such powerful insight for our audience to hear and I’d love to know from you, Helen, what parting words of wisdom would you like to leave our listeners with today?

I would say be adaptable and flexible. Be willing to engage with people whose perspective are different than yours. Be the kind of person that is comfortable with who they are, but also recognizes that it’s important to give space for other people to be who they are fully. I really hope that if people take anything away from what I’ve shared is to be a 21st century leader takes effort, it takes intentionality, it takes a new way of thinking about culture and inclusion and differences.

Thank you. That wisdom is something I think our listeners will continue to enjoy and can benefit from. I’d love to hear from them on how they’re applying some of these things in their own life. I think that the Rural Futures Institute would definitely want this to be a very open conversation and would love to learn from them as well, so thank you.

Absolutely, and I would love to hear from them as well.

This Week in Serviceship 2018: Week Seven!

Alliance, Neb.

“Seeing how far we have come in this project excites me. I am very excited to show the communities of Box Butte County our end result in a few weeks!”



Mirissa and Haley’s painted tires beautify Carhenge for their volunteering project.

We can’t believe it is already the 7th week of Serviceship! Things are starting to wind down and we have been editing like crazy for our Marketing Hometown America video! We have continued to meet amazing people and have gotten to do some traveling to surrounding areas on the weekends which has been nice! The main focus of our last two weeks has been to write interview questions, visit businesses, wrap up footage content, and conduct interviews for our final product.

We also attended the Cattle Capital Rodeo this past weekend and got some pictures and video of that. On Jul. 2, we had supper with Bob and Delinda Neville and rode around the town of Alliance selling ice cream in Delinda’s ice cream truck. On Independence Day we celebrated the holiday with our lead mentor Chelsie her family and Susan Unzicker, Executive Director of the Alliance Chamber. On Jul. 6, we visited with Congressman Adrian Smith and the first week of Bands on the Bricks will take place. Bands on the Bricks will be occurring every Friday in July in Alliance and the first Friday of August in Hemingford. We are also excited to experience our first Heritage Days celebration soon!

“It has been really great having Haley and Mirissa here,” said Box Butte General Hospital Promotions Specialist Shae Brennan. “Coming from the eastern part of the state to the western side gives it a different vibe. They are bringing out the best in the video for Box Butte County. I’m really thankful for that and I want this town to grow and be better than it is. I love this community.”


We have also finished up our volunteer project at Carhenge. Our lead mentor, Chelsie Herian, gave us six tires and we power washed them and spray painted them. Then we planted flowers in the tires to help beautify Carhenge.

“We are very excited about what we have been doing and are looking forward to putting all of our work together in order to make an amazing video and attract residents to Box Butte County.”






McCook, Neb.

Within the last two weeks, we have cracked down on our museum planning! After a lot of brainstorming and sketches on paper, we have started to use SketchUp to create computerized designs and blueprints of rooms. Our intention with this is to make our creative ideas as visual as possible when we hand our designs over to someone else at the end of the summer. These designs will also be useful for the public to gain an awareness of the plan of action that will be phased in over the next few years. To spark some enthusiasm for the future change and get community members involved, we will be holding a membership drive event in the next few weeks.

“The RFI Serviceship Program has taught me that economic development is the heart and soul of rural Nebraska. It is all about creating community, doing the extraordinary and believing that small towns really do make big waves.”


In addition to the museum planning, we have been working on two projects with McCook’s Economic Development Director Andy Long. The first project is called the McCook Mastermind Alliance. The goal of this group is to bring together highly motivated people who are committed to growing personally and professionally. Promotion and connection are two of our main goals for this project. By accomplishing these two tasks, we feel we will be able help start the engine of this creative and collaborative train.

The other project we are working on is the Accelerated Interns of McCook (AIM), which is a program modeled after the RFI Serviceship unique to the McCook community. High school and college students will apply for existing or new internships in the area, and AIM managers will assist with promotion and application screening. Beyond hiring, the program will focus on creating a close-knit community for interns through bi-weekly meetings with one another and local professionals, as well as social gatherings. Interns will also complete 10 volunteer service hours throughout the summer.

Emily took this photo of Sage while snapping photos for the Southwest Nebraska Tourism Coalition.

Sage and Emily present their museum planning designs to the High Plains Museum Board.

“RFI Serviceship has taught me to appreciate rural communities in a way I never have before. Each community is so unique in some way—its rich history, an invested and diverse group of thinkers and all of those who are continuously looking forward to the future of the community.”


We are creating marketing materials and applications for both projects while also planning a kickoff event. The theme for the kickoff is a Fiery Fiesta because we are hoping to light a new fire for these projects focused on leadership and community development, and who doesn’t love tacos? We are especially thankful for Andy Long getting us involved in these two projects, as they combine aspects of entrepreneurship and serviceship for rural communities—something we both share a passion for!

On top of all of the work we have been doing on these projects, we have also been having a little fun behind the camera. Last Saturday we hopped in the car to Trenton, Neb., to take some pictures for the Southwest Nebraska Tourism Coalition website. We snapped some pictures of the colorful farmers market corner, the local boutique and the most unique massage therapy business—who would have thought? If you’re looking for hidden gems in Nebraska, Trenton is definitely one to explore!




McCook THETA Camps

“The students of THETA have kept me excited each day by showing an interest in the material that we are supplying them. This is a very rewarding experience to see a student develop an understanding of a topic I’m passionate about.”


THETA continues to keep trucking along as we’ve completed 5 modules of our camp already. It’s crazy to see how fast this summer is passing. It feels as if just last week we were all in Lincoln completing our serviceship training.

At THETA, we are continuing to make impressive advancements as we have expanded our reaches from physical activity and nutrition into technology now as well. It has been a very good mix of speed for both RFI interns as well as our students. The kids continue to stay excited about the material that we are presenting them.

The students specifically loved being able to cross physical activity and technology together and apply both their uses. One way we’ve been able to do this is by assigning IHT monitors, which similar to Fitbits, to each student in order to study their heart rates and physical activity levels for various activities. This is an excellent activity be students get to actually see how much work their body is doing for simple movements compared to complex activities.

“I’ve been excited about the kids’ eagerness to learn and seeing them be able apply the information we teach them directly to their own lives.”



An activity utilizing the internet of things allowed students to be creative by trying to connect various objects to the internet and solve a problem that they face whether it be at home or in their school. It has been awesome seeing kids take such an interest in these activities and also be able to continue to develop their problem-solving skills.

We have also had a few volunteer opportunities show up that we were more than eager to help out with. We helped the community set up some very heavy pool equipment for a swim meet as well as doing various things within the YMCA. We feel that the community is very thankful with anything that we get to help out with and that makes it that much easier to lend a hand where ever it is needed.

THETA camp was scheduled for a break during the week of Independence Day as it is difficult to keep our numbers up with the various activities going on. We are eager to return to camp and hope the kids are too!

“The kids have shown tremendous growth in their application of what we are teaching. They’re taking the time to really dive in and try to understand what we are teaching them.”





Neligh, Neb.

In these last two weeks, we have finished the Neligh mapping report and finished collecting data for the northeast mapping report. The Neligh mapping report was formatted and sent as a confidential file to the strategic planning committee. The northeast mapping report just needs several more hours of formatting work and it will be finished as well.

We have also been out in the community and were busy with business visits and talking to community members. On Jun. 29, we delivered root-beer floats with State Farm to businesses around town.  We also helped register floats for the Independence Day parade. We also have been spending time recording, editing and scheduling videos.

We went out to Theile Dairy in Clearwater, Neb., to show support for the community as Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts paid a visit to a local dairy. We got a tour of the farm and met farmers from the Clearwater area.

Michayla and Rhiannon pose with Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts during his Ag Adventure in Clearwater, Neb.

Rhiannon and Michayla drive around Neligh on Independence Day to record videos and take photos of the community.

Michayla has been working on entrepreneurship curriculum that will be used during the school year as a class that meets once bi-weekly. I attended an executive meeting to get ideas and input on the outline. Rhiannon has taken charge of a large service project for us. Community members want the cemetery to be inventoried, and they want the records to be condensed. We are going to then do a map and color coding system to help families find open plots and their loved ones.

On the Jul. 25, the RFI team paid us a visit, and it was great to talk with them. We always learn so much from their wisdom and perspective. It meant a lot to us that our coordinators cared enough to visit and then to stay for an extended period of time.

We also had a strategic planning committee meeting. It is composed of chamber members, city council members and community representatives. We had introductions and then collectively did a SWOT analysis to go through best and worst-case scenario of what Neligh would look like in ten years.

“It still amazes me that even when there are other things going on, people care so much for each other and want what is best for their community.”





Seward, Neb.

The past few weeks were filled with a good amount of progress pertaining to our projects. Our newcomer ice cream social event is to take place on Jul. 15, and we are excited for it. We have partnered with the Kiwanis Club of Seward and Lee’s Refrigeration to help us sustain this project and make it a year-to-year event.

We are still in the planning stages of the other two events that we have in mind. We do have an idea as to what we want those events to be like and who we are trying to partner with, but because everyone is so busy we have been planning at a slower pace. Our second and third events are tentatively planned to take place in October 2018 and April 2019. It is also a blessing in disguise that we have organizations and civic groups that are happy and willing to work with us on a professional capacity. They are very much looking forward to what we come up with and are not hesitant to help sustain the events towards the future for the betterment of the community and the county as a whole.

Another one of our projects in updating the Seward County website. We are taking this information from each of the communities and adding to the website. This will then help newcomers and visitors to get new information about the town they are visiting.

Vintage sign hangs in Bee, Neb., a village in Seward County that Raghav and Maddie visited this week.

After we finish updating the website, we hope to receive a grant from the Seward Visitor’s Committee to make Seward County magnets. These magnets would have the website’s URL on them and we would pass them out to each community to hand out. We are hoping to hear from the committee about the grant later this month.

Overall, we have helped enable the community to utilize better, easier and convenient channels for receiving information about the community and the events that take place within it. We have also gone around to each community in the county and gathered information of businesses, utilities, trash services, school and organizations. The goal here is to help people out to get to know their community better and create channels of communication within communities that did not exist before.