In the previous essay on creating a Community of Innovators, we talked about positive role models, and the importance of tolerating-- just allowing-- creativity, in families and in communities.Key to creating a Community of Innovators is not to discourage or destroy the creative spirit. So what are the negative role models? Just what destroys innovation?

(To begin with Part I of this essay, click here.)

Joseph N Abraham MD, University of LouisianaA couple of years ago I was at a local meeting where the topic was how we might stimulate innovation here in Lafayette. We were meeting at a local upscale bar, a very informal situation, and I was sitting next to one of the first people in Acadiana I would choose to talk to about innovation. At one point, he and I were talking softly about the topic at hand, and the facilitator said, "Joe, pay attention."

I did not go to another meeting. This wasn't so much because of the unprofessionalism, but because the comment confirmed my suspicions, that the facilitator and perhaps some of the people in the group probably didn't understand innovation. In fact, her approach illustrates what I suspect is wrong in most groups that seek to stimulate innovation. It is the problem I discussed at the beginning of these essays, that innovation isn't top down. Innovation isn't designed by someone at the head of a class saying, "Everyone pay attention." To the contrary, that approach is counterproductive.

Fortunately that attitude, symptomatic of what prevents innovation in much of the world, seems to be less of a problem here in Lafayette. Here in the Hub City, we are more tolerant, more independent, and more individualistic. The overarching theme of these essays is that Lafayette is already a Community of Innovators, we just need to understand how we're different from the rest of the world, and build on that. The previous essay looked at positive role models. This one will look at negative role models, at some of the pitfalls that exist elsewhere so that we will know what to avoid, and don't lose what makes us strong.

I believe that the difference between Lafayette and most other places can be understood by examining the words 'community' and 'society'. We tend to use those words interchangeably, but they describe-- and I argue that they should describe-- two radically different approaches to cities, to cultures, to organizations, and even to life itself.

I started thinking about this years ago, when one of my professors compared UL to another school he was working with, and noted that they operated as a hierarchy. UL, by contrast, was more 'of a network.'

Communities are networks, societies are hierarchies; communities are horizontal, and societies are vertical. In societies, there are 'important people', implying that everyone else is unimportant. But in a community, everyone is important: even the town drunk is important, everyone knows who he is, and looks out for him and his family.

Consider the term 'high society', and that there is no such thing as 'high community'. The society pages in the newspapers tend to focus on that 'high society', on wealthy, influential people, and the exclusive groups to which they belong. The community pages, on the other hand, are about 'regular' people working together: volunteers, families, neighborhoods, churches and local schools.