Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fractured Fairy Tales - The Boy Who Cried Potential

Yes boys and girls, no matter how much we try to avoid it, it's time once again for another of those wonderful stories that you have all come to know and love. (Hey, no complaints. You just have to read them. I'm the one that has to to write them.) Today's tale is another of those cautionary tales about a magical land that we have come to know and love as "Toodledeedoo". But let's not waste any more time in idle chit-chat and get right to our story. 

Once upon a time their lived a man (well, more of a boy actually), who lived in the magical land of Toodledeedoo. This man/boy was a civil servant, in a position of some authority, and had been given direct responsibility for the economic development of the land. Now this was something that is very important to any community, and unfortunately something that he knew absolutely nothing about. But such was the makeup of this over-age child that this lack of knowledge or skills in no way prevented him from blundering forward at his assigned duties. Time passed, and little of this responsibility was actually accomplished.

Toodledeedo's situation in fact got progressively worse under his stewardship. Soon even blissful ignorance made it impossible for him to ignore the fact that he was failing miserably at this given task, but being the creature he was he decided that if he couldn't fulfill his obligations he would ignore his failures and attempt to draw attention to himself and his supposed efforts anyway. 

So one day, he simply went to one of his failed ventures (in this case the downtown Erie Street Market), and cried, "This building has potential!" Everyone came running to see what all of the fuss was about, but when they came, all that they saw was a sad little man in a sad little place. If once the Erie Street Market had potential, it had long since passed. It was little more these days than an eyesore and a drain on Toodledeedoo's scant resources, and a source of embarrassment to it's citizens. Disgusted at being pulled away from their own lives (and with this tired little performance), they shook their heads and sadly walked away. 

Determined to gain praise when he had failed before, he chose another site. This time standing in front of the closed COSI facility (Center of Science and Industry), and again he shouted, "This building has potential!" Once again everyone came running to see what all the excitement was about. Once again they were disappointed. This time the citizens were being presented with a project whose potential, if it ever had any, had long since passed under intellectual laziness, operational neglect, and poor fiscal management. Once more disgusted with a fuss being made over nothing, they sadly shook their heads and walked away, this time mumbling as they left. Infuriated now over his lack of success in drawing the praise he felt he so richly deserved, and undaunted by his continuing failure to garner the proper attention, our subject tried a third time. 

Standing in front of the United Way building this time, he once again shouted, "This building has potential!" Once more, everyone came running (well actually more like trotting this time, but at least they showed up again). One glance at where he was standing was enough for the crowd this time however. The United Way building had been written off by the very people that it was built for as a white elephant, and merited little more than the demolition the owners already had planned for it. The tired efforts or our sorry little civil servant, having passed mere annoyance by this time, were really beginning to aggravate the populace however. They left again, but not without a few angry shouts about bad judgment, abuse of power, and sheer bull-headed ignorance this time. 

Surprised over his complete failure to garner the praise and attention that he felt he so richly deserved, he finally gave up and began to make his way slowly back to his office. It was while make this somber journey however that it occurred to him that the answer to economic development he was looking for had been right before his eyes all the time. It was something that many had been telling him about for years, but which he pointedly ignored because he hadn't come up with the idea first. Toodledeedoo was on a really big lake (some might even call it great) so it could handle shipping by water, was in the middle of a bunch of great 4-lane roads that could be equally helpful, had an airport that nobody was using for much of anything these days, and was surrounded by rail lines to add to the mix. 

If all of these things could be combined (Can you say intermodal facility?), he could turn Toodledeedoo into a commercial hub for the transportation of goods from one end of the country to the other. This realization struck him so strongly that it was all that he could do to continue walking. Almost in spite of himself, he had finally found the answer he was looking for. (After everyone else of course, but that's beside the point.) "This has potential!" he cried, but this time nobody came. "No, this time I really mean it. This has potential!" he screamed again even more loudly, but again no one came. He screamed and screamed again. He screamed until he finally made himself hoarse, but no one ever came to see what the fuss was about. 

You see, when you abuse the power of your position and falsely claim successes that don't really exist, eventually everyone stops listening. Fed up with the natural fertilizer and noise that you have generated in the past, people eventually wise up, tune you out, and in the end ignore you completely. Even if you come up with a great idea after that, no one will show up to hear you; and it is highly unlikely that any good idea that you come up with will ever be realized as a consequence.


Let us hope that this is a fate that those of us not living in a fairy tale can yet avoid. Real opportunities don't come very around often, and if you continually pass them up, eventually they stop coming at all. Perhaps such cautionary tales will help to curb the noise and nonsense that some of our civic leaders generate in their need for self-aggrandizement, focus our attention on real opportunities, and give good ideas a chance to yet succeed.


Hooda Thunkit said...


I have to disagree.

This sounds like the hamlet haunted by a very ill-tempered ogre (one with a reverse Midas touch).

Everything the ogre touched eventually turned to..., fertilizer (for lack of a more accurate name).

In reality everybody (hopefully) realized that the ogre was the problem, but not before it was too late. . .

A very depressing fractured fairy tale IMO.

Roland Hansen said...

"Build it and they will come."

Hmmm. Where have I heard that before?

Seems to me it was from another tall tale.

Tim Higgins said...


The story you speak of has already been told:

It is easy enough to confuse leading characters however, as more than one flower of inspiration can spring from the same root.

Tim Higgins said...


Your sound memory and discerning nature once again do you credit.

kck_kat said...

Hmmmm...the COSI sounds very much like Union Station in Kansas City. Are you sure it's called the COSI in Toodledeedoo?

Tim Higgins said...


I think that things like these live in many places and under many names. No matter how they are spelled, they are all pronounced as "crap" and smell just as bad.

That's OK though, as long as we recognized them for the fertilizer they are and treat them as such.