Detroit: A Learning Laboratory for Reinvention

Detroit: A Learning Laboratory for Reinvention

By on Aug 17, 2016 in Blog, Connect, Detroit, Disruption, Move, Ownership, Reinvention, Reinvention Laboratory, Simplify | 0 comments

Why Detroit?


Since late 2014, Mike Bills and I have traveled to Detroit on a monthly basis to record PureReinvention interviews. The podcasts created from those interviews primarily focus on the movers and shakers at the grassroots level – that’s where the most exciting stories of reinvention can be found.

I just finished working on Mike and Jodi’s podcast episode “Why Detroit?” and I thought I would add some additional thoughts with this blog. As the podcast producer for PureReinvention, I’ve had the privilege of putting together nearly 100 episodes for this project. In this process, I’ve learned a great deal from our guests.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from taking part in these interviews. It’s been a passion of mine to produce these inspiring podcasts, which allow us to share these wonderful people – and insights into the reinvention process – with you. Listen, and you too will agree, there are great reasons for optimism as challenges are turned into opportunities. The interviews represented in this podcast are just the tip of the iceberg for the reinvention happening in Detroit today.

Get your free infographic on Detroit’s reinvention.

What excites me most is that we can take home lessons from these podcasts that we can apply in our personal lives and businesses. These lessons have truly helped my own practice. They’ve helped me refine and focus my story, as well as encouraged me to experiment and collaborate – probably much more than I would have done without these motivating, inspirational examples of reinvention.

This month’s podcast focuses on why we have spent time in Detroit. Jodi asked Mike how he saw the PureReinvention process being played out in Detroit on a daily basis. He made some great points. I thought I would list some great podcast episodes that bring home Mike’s points and give you a quick primer on why PureReinvention is focusing on what’s happening in Detroit today.


Detroit Disruption – Cobo Center


“It all starts from a crisis point. We had to clear a lot of hurdles to get to this point. We had to earn a lot of trust.”

– Patrick Bero, CEO/CFO of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority – Episode 039 (9:28)

Disrupt is the first fundamental of reinvention and it’s well documented that Detroit has had its share of that experience, especially over the last few years. The story of the decline and 2008 resurrection of Cobo Center is one of the most visible elements of disruption and reinvention in Detroit.

Last year, we sat down with Patrick Bero of the Detroit Regional Convention Facility Authority and got to hear first hand the challenges and triumphs behind the reinvention of Cobo Center. This podcast is a great listen and gives you a feel for just how bad things got with Cobo Center before they successfully turned things around.

The Cobo Center (formerly Cobo Hall) was one of the first convention centers in the U.S. when it was built. Detroit actually reinvented how cities hosted conventions at that time. Unfortunately, things fell into disrepair over the years and Cobo Hall was down to only two shows in 2008. Even worse, the North American International Auto show – which had used Cobo Hall for their conventions since 1965 – was threatening to pull out. It became clear that Cobo could not continue to function unless drastic changes were made.

Repairing and modernizing Cobo would take substantial funds. Patrick was put in charge of coming up with the financing. The city did not have the resources to fund the project. Other regional governments, who could lend a hand in saving the facility, had trust issues working with the city. This required a creative solution. The independent authority that arose required tremendous cooperation and political courage to make it happen. Cobo is now run like a business and has a requirement to be self-sustaining by 2023. Patrick reports to us that they are well on the way to achieving those goals.


Listen to Patrick Bero:


Ownership of the Problem: Examples in Detroit


“Political inertia kept [Detroit] from changing…But the political leaders of the time finally found the guts to say, ‘We need to make this change happen’ and they did. What it did for the community was change the paradigm.”

-Jim M. Nicholson, Vice President, PVS Chemicals, Inc. – Episode 010 (9:20)

Ownership is the second fundamental of PureReinvention. If no one steps up to the plate to solve the problem, nothing gets done. You see ownership on the micro and macro levels in Detroit today. It’s exciting to see this principal in action, and we’ve done our best to give you a sampling at every level.

None of the resurgence in Detroit would be possible without those who have invested heavily in the community and stayed here through thick and thin. PVS Chemicals and the Nicholson family certainly fall into this category.

Jim M. Nicholson, Vice President of PVS Chemicals, Inc. sat down with us in January, 2015 and discussed his family’s 70 year commitment to the City of Detroit. Jim helps us understand the values of long-term commitment and ownership, as someone stepping up to establish and own a vision to move forward. Jim notes that change happens when there’s a certain threshold of people who say “enough is enough”.


Listen to Jim M. Nicholson:


Simplification of the Problem: A Detroit Story


“Go back to the basics, get the fundamentals right…and then build.”

-Donna Inch, Chairman and CEO – Ford Land, Episode 022 (2:40)


You have to simplify and get to the root of the issue if you’re to craft a sustainable solution. That’s the third fundamental of PureReinvention and is most often overlooked when people are responding to a crisis.

In April, 2015 we sat down with Donna Inch, Chairman and CEO of Ford Land to discuss her observations and experience in the Detroit reinvention movement. Ford Land is a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company and is one of the largest commercial landlords in southeastern Michigan.

Donna shares her thoughts on reinvention in Detroit and in the auto industry. She talks about the value of simplifying the problem and combining it with vision to build positive solutions. She also talks about the value of leadership in creating and sharing the vision, and aligning goals to ensure the success of that vision.

Donna also provides insights on how a successful business plan is created and executed. You need a lean, simple plan, focused on your objective in order to create ‘buy in’ with stakeholders and the community. This is the importance of simplification in the reinvention process.


Listen to Donna Inch:


Connecting to the Public and Stakeholders: Detroit Style


“We knew that we were working on something that was truly unique and we wanted to make sure the public understood that as well.”

-Thomas Woiwode – GreenWays Initiative, Episode 081 (13:15)


Connect is the fourth fundamental of PureReinvention and the most multifaceted. You connect to get support. You connect to test and validate plans. Without ample testing and sufficient support, a plan doesn’t stand much of a chance for success.

Mike interviewed Thomas Woiwode a few weeks ago and we gained valuable insight on how connecting the public and communities to downtown have contributed significantly to Detroit’s revitalization.

Thomas Woiwode is the Director of the GreenWays Initiative for the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan. They were behind the Dequindre Cut and the Midtown Loop Greenway. All of these projects provide paths to physically – and economically and culturally – connect other areas of the region to the downtown area.

Thomas teaches us that reaching out to the pubic is vital to the success of these projects. Reaching out meant doing a lot of listening as well. The projects were greatly improved due to public input. Use the link below to listen and learn more about the process of building these connections.


Listen to Thomas Woiwode:


Detroit is Moving – We Can Too!


“People want to extract the lessons [of Detroit]…people say ‘how can I apply that to my life?”

-Josh Linkner – Episode 036 (8:09)


Move is the final fundamental and the most visible element of the PureReinvention process. We see the movement in Detroit by the new businesses coming to Detroit. More importantly, there is a vibrancy that any casual observer can see – and feel – in downtown Detroit. Additionally, there are pockets of reinvention popping up across the entire city. It’s far from perfect, but it’s exciting and inspiring nonetheless.

When we sat down with Josh Linkner last summer, we asked him about Detroit and what he sees happening there. He loves spreading the word about Detroit’s reinvention process. Everywhere he goes, he’s been talking about the lessons we can gather from the Detroit experience, and about the valuable insights learned from the City of Detroit.

Josh is a great ambassador for the city. He has spread the message though countless speaking engagements, the “Fuel Leadership” conferences he’s founded, as well as two New York Times best sellers – Disciplined Dreaming: A Proven System to Drive Breakthrough Creativity and The Road to Reinvention: How to Drive Disruption and Accelerate Transformation. To hear more stories about how Detroit is moving forward, listen to our podcast interview with Josh.


Listen to Josh Linkner:


Detroit is PureReinvention!


Observing, distilling and learning from this movement are the central elements of the PureReinvention Project. We document it several times a month through our podcasts, and we write about what we learn. Our passion is to connect people and organizations to this fantastic learning laboratory.

Detroit is the learning laboratory where you get to see reinvention in action: old buildings repurposed; new businesses popping up as local entrepreneurs are assisted by established businesses; entrepreneurs coming from across the county to take advantage of Detroit’s size and low costs; governments working together to set aside past differences and come up with novel approaches that set new standards in transparency. Not all these experiments will succeed, but we’ve found Detroit’s people to be honest and completely open to sharing their experiences. We encourage you to come along for the ride and participate in the learning laboratory.

What we strive to do here at Team PureReinvention is help you to take these stories and put them in context so you can take home a valuable lesson to apply to your organization or personal life. We do this on a weekly basis with our introduction and ending summaries on the podcasts. We offer deeper dives with corporate retreats, “WE.INVENT” and our “STARTERS” programs.

The podcasts listed above are but a few examples of the over 30 episodes that we’ve done in the metropolitan Detroit area. We invite you to take a deeper dive and experience Detroit the PureReinvention way. Simply go to our category search page and scroll down to “Detroit”. They’re all there and ready to be listened to.

We are most grateful to Jeanette Pierce of the Detroit Experience Factory – and her staff – for their assistance in helping us locate those who are taking ownership in their community and are helping to move Detroit forward. Jeanette Pierce and her organization has “owned” a significant space in the retelling of the Detroit story. We also thank Larry Alexander and the great people of the  Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau for connecting us to key players in Detroit as well.

Lastly, thank you for joining us on this journey. I’ve personally found it to be one of the most rewarding of my career and I look forward to continued enlightenment through future podcast episodes!



I grew up in associations and have been a technological advocate for nearly 20 years.I have a proven track record by running three trade associations, serving on the technological committees of several others.I am passionate about leveraging content and technology to keep trade associations relevant. Founding member, @purereinvention & Social Media Marketing Society.I was honored by MSAE in 2014 with the Director’s Gavel Award for advancing the strategic interests of the association.

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