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Greg Tehven: Business, Local Community, and Love

Nuggets From Greg Tehven's Call

Today, we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Greg Tehven.

“I think we have to love our sense of place, and champion the heck out of it,” says Greg Tehven, who is turning the world of economic development on its head and inviting people to build the communities they want to live in. Confronted with the business failings of his beloved hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, he asked himself what the community could offer to the public that would help get it back on its feet. An unexpected answer surfaced, based on the city's small population and open spaces: drones. Fargo now hosts an annual drone conference attracting attendees from around the world. The town has quickly become an appealing city for college graduates, business leaders, and tech enthusiasts. Co-founder of Emerging Prairie, curator of TEDx Fargo, and host of a burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem, Tehven is changing what it means to harness the power of our communities, and improve the human condition.

We'll post the transcript of the call soon, but till then, bunch of nuggets that stood out from the call ...

  • From launching pay-it-forward service trips while in college, "I learned that anyone can serve. Service does not discriminate by age, gender, etc." "We were building friendship in the spirit of service."
  • A key organizing principle: to give first. TEDxFargo has drawn 1,600 people. This year they expect 2,200. How? "It goes back to what my parents did, which is to "give first". The organizing principle for the team is to write a love-letter to the audience. How can we create a day-and-a-half experience with that attention to detail for them? ... We have prayer rooms, gender-inclusive bathrooms, an ASL interpreter. The premise that everyone is welcome and included. Childcare is available for folks. We look at how to reduce barriers to entry (price, access, etc.) so more people can participate."
  • What attracted you to this sense of "give first"? "I think it was the day-to-day roll modeling of my parents. For examples, with neighbors (who, in our rural area, live 1-20 miles away), someone would get sick. On weekends, people would gathering in my living room, I was just a kid but my mom would be making food, and dad would be saying 'How can we help these folks?' ... Or a house would burn down and all of a sudden my mom would be organizing the neighbors on who's doing this, who's doing that. [...] I was never told I had to volunteer or serve. My parents just modeled what it meant to be a good neighbor."
  • Greg spent a year wandering the world. After going full-steam with Students Today, Leaders Forever through college and his early twenties, Greg found himself burned out. He walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route, and observed how much his identity had gotten wrapped up in the work he did. The conclusion from that year away: "I realized I was just enough. Not better or worse. Just enough. And I wanted to stand in community with others." He asked, "Am I a human being or a human doing? And how do I set my life up to be a human being?"
  • What's a memorable TEDx moment? "When we do our curation, we've had big names -- Olympians, corporate folks, celebrities. But one of my favorites was last year, where a high school student, who we met through our open call process, gave a talk about what it means to be a Muslim female in Fargo, North Dakota. For some reason, the only technology challenges the entire day was during her talk. So she had to open with "I am a female Muslim" three consecutive times. There was this tension in the room. What would she say? (At that time in the community, there were some hate crimes happening, and just some really poor treatment of her community.) And she gave this amazingly positive, powerful, uplifting talk -- about her journey, her hope, what she had done at her high school to increase awareness and understanding of different backgrounds from different parts of the world. And our crowd gave her a standing ovation. They didn't give a standing ovation to the celebrity or to the fancy folks. They gave it to the young woman who spoke from her heart, with courage, to tell her story."
  • A lessons from community organizing? "Having a long-term view generally wins." As the proverb goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together." Trying to build togetherness with a long-term view.
  • A question to hold? How to balance being a community-builder and also be in the community?
  • What are youth today looking for? "I just sense a real craving for belonging," he says, without skipping a beat. "How do we create pathways for them to contribute and be and add value?"
  • What happens when classrooms encourage "failure"? As adjunct professor at North Dakota State University's College of Business, Greg leads class with humor, laughter, and encouraging failure. :) Guest speakers come regularly. "Our assignments are around failure: go try to fail 3 times. Or we tell them, 'come up with the worst company idea you can imagine,' and then we give that idea to a different group, and they have to come back and tell us why that's a great idea." For example? "Open up an ice cream shop in December in Fargo (where the average temperature is zero). But the next group figured out, "Well, you could have an ice bar, it could be mobile, you could have outdoor lamps and blankets, and people would come from around the world."
  • On Identity & Service: "One of our TEDx MCs said, 'When I thought about emceeing this event with 2,000 people, I was so nervous. I was nervous because all I thought about was myself. I thought about "how would I sound? Would I be funny enough? Would I say a name wrong? But then I realized I need to serve the audience. When I realized my role was to serve, I was no longer nervous. Because I had a job to do: to love and care for the people in the room.' When I think more about the problems we want to help solve... it feels less about identity, and more about direction. And it gets into calling -- I feel like I'm resisting the temptations of ambition and more to respond to be there for my wife and child." "I've quit doing as much goal-setting. I used to be very ambitious with goal-setting. ... Now I just think in more value-based terms, on how I want to be instead of what I want to do."
  • When asked, "How can our ecosystem serve you?" his natural reply is "come visit and stay with us in Fargo." Always giving first. :)
Thank you, Greg, for this gem of an Awakin Call! And also, much gratitude to our magnificent moderator, Preeta, and all the invisible volunteers that make these calls happen, week-in and week-out!

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