Can a depressed country, region, business, or family become renewed? Absolutely. There are many ways of redeveloping any region or group. Can a civilization rebuild after a war or serious economic crisis? They certainly can with better leadership and citizens that share the same perspectives. Examples of Asian and European cities rebuilt after World War Two abound. The Trummerfrauen (rubble women) of Germany literally rebuilt their cities with their hands, and many Japanese cities rebuilt their economies as their companies implemented Quality Improvement (QI) after World War Two.
For a recent example of dramatic economic renewal, several of our leaders at Veritas Global Development have witnessed the dramatic economic collapse, devastation, and rebirth of Pittsburgh, PA firsthand as a great example to learn from.
Amazon, the corporate giant, is currently ready to spend $5 billion on a second headquarters. Pittsburgh is one of the cities on Amazon's shortlist despite its limited public transportation. Whereas other cities on the list tout low cost of housing or a "business-friendly city," Pittsburgh offers a homegrown workforce mentality and business environment that truly embraces new kinds of business and research ideas with flexibility. Since 2013, Pittsburgh has been hosting the unique Thrival Innovation festival that features the inventions, innovations, business, health, and culture that it now has.
"This is the very justice that Plato investigated... that every human in the city do the work that is his by nature in the best way that he possibly can." Abu l-Walid Muhammad Ibn AhmadIbn Rushd (Averroes), On Plato's Republic
20th Century Industrial Powerhouse
For many decades in the 19th Century and 20th Century, Pittsburgh was the steel capital of the world, the national center for coal, and a hub for electrical and mechanical engineering. Aside from US Steel and Westinghouse Electric Corporation, many other Fortune 500 companies like Rockwell, Alcoa, PPG, and Heinz Kraft set up headquarters in Pittsburgh as well.
Andrew Carnegie, the famous industrialist and philanthropist, rose from utter poverty to become the richest man in the world at one point. Carnegie built a steel corporation that became the first in history to make $1 billion as the US Steel Corporation. That steel built the railroads, bridges, trains, cars, factories, and skyscrapers that would make the United States the most industrialized country in the world. In spite of the great achievements he helped to create in industry and engineering, Carnegie believed and preached that philanthropy was the most fulfilling activity of a wealth person.
Nearby mountains provided iron ore and coal for hundreds of steel furnaces during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century. As a result, the US Department of the Interior established the US Bureau of Mines south of Pittsburgh. If it is any indication how much coal was used, a typical office worker in downtown Pittsburgh had to change their white shirt five times a day because of the soot in the air. As a result, the rate of pulmonary disorders and death was high in the region.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric Corporation operated as the main competitor of General Electric for 100 years (one technological struggle between the two companies became known as The War of the Currents), and together they created the electrically-powered civilization we have today. Nikola Tesla worked at Westinghouse, and the company invented alternating current (AC), electric generators, hydroelectric power plants, the radio station, the turbojet, and illuminated tennis courts. The mechanical engineers of Westinghouse also created many other non-electrical inventions such as airbreaks, shock absorbers, the rotary steam engine, and a reduction valve to safely bring natural gas into homes. By the year 1900, Westinghouse managed 50,000 workers. In 1929, the year of the stock crash, Westinghouse made $216 million. George Westinghouse, the founder, held 300 patents himself before World War One, and he spent the last of his days trying to create a perpetual motion machine. The Westinghouse Electric Corporation once held the third largest number of US patents, and the company used and maintained a number of supercomputers, a rarity of its time.
"When we are mentally agile, we are able to draw upon, and to "aptly use," the full continuum of cognitive control." University of Minnesota Psychology Professor Wilma Koutstaal, The Agile Mind
Within two decades spanning the late 1970s and the early 1990s, the entire steel industry, the coal industry, and the engineering giant all collapsed. Union workers failed to realize the competition they faced overseas. Leaders of Westinghouse lost more than a billion dollars overnight through bad investments and followed that loss with terrible acquisitions that cost even more money. Pittsburgh and the surrounding area permanently lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Other businesses collapsed as well. For example, Gimbels department store closed, Kaufman’s department store folded, and the Krogers supermarket chain pulled out. An article from The Guardian notes that the devastation was so bad that unemployment in Pittsburgh was worse than in Detroit. The real estate market kept plummeting, and many people dropped into bankruptcy without the ability to leave the area. Those who fled, could, and the population declined almost by one third.
"Each of these little steps is absolutely necessary... any big job like improving American industry, translates itself down to millions of little jobs. There is no big job other than the total sum of all these little jobs. This, too, had better be stressed, especially with younger people who sit around waiting for some huge cause to enlist themselves in, for something worthy of them..." Psychology Professor Abraham Maslow, Maslow on Management
21st Century Economic Renaissance
However, after the disastrous mistakes made by certain corporate leaders and union leaders over time, many Pittsburghers cultivated new perspectives, crafted new enterprises, and transitioned to completely new careers. Many restarted from bankruptcy to rebuild the city and their lives. They bonded together effectively to create something known as the Pittsburgh Renaissance. People, including corporate executives, helped each other transition into new careers. Pittsburgh now has a booming tech industry and medical research industry that both receive a significant amount of research funding.
Aside from Amazon, tech giants like Google, Apple, Intel, and Uber have set up shop alongside numerous tech start-ups in Pittsburgh. For example, Uber has hired many of its 500 Pittsburgh employees from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) to design and test 100 self-driving Volvos. Uber estimates that its research in Pittsburgh will create more than $1 billion for the company in the next several years.
Meanwhile, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UMPC) has become one of the best research centers in the world. Many patients come from around the world to receive treatment at UPMC. For it is the world center for organ transplants, it has a booming parallel biotech industry, and some UMPC departments receive the highest amounts of research funding in the world. For instance, UPMC's psychiatry department has been receiving more research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any other psychiatry department, and psychiatry has become one of the highest funded research fields in medicine because of its study of the brain and mind. Overall, UPMC is a $13 billion operation, and it maintains the only medical skyscraper by renting the US Steel Tower (of note, that triangular tower's unique design still has the world's largest roof for a skyscraper, and it was the tallest skyscraper between NY and Chicago for many decades).
Even before the Thrival Innovation festival, the people of Pittsburgh had long been used to seeing nightly news reports and television shows about medical problems, medical innovations, and engineering feats. That is rare to find, for not even a more renowned academic city like Boston devotes much broadcasting time to science, engineering, and technology.
As a result of Pittsburgh's economic growth, many acclaimed restaurants have popped up with well known chefs. Whereas other "Rust Belt" cities have languished for decades without growth, Pittsburgh has revitalized itself with new and substantial importance. It has a real and sustainable Pittsburgh Renaissance. This rebirth has inspired us ever since.
"Physical agility is characterized by nimbleness, flexibility, and a capacity to rapidly and aptly alter the position... All this is also true of mental agility. Agile thinking involves ways of representing and processing information and knowledge that is flexibly, creatively, and adaptively attuned to changing circumstances and goals. It is thinking that is able to promote and sustain both long-term and provisional plans and projects in the face of dynamic and more stable environments, in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity, and for real-life risks and rewards." University of Minnesota Psychology Professor Wilma Koutstaal, The Agile Mind
The Keys to Transformative Success
George Westinghouse and Andrew Carnegie both grew up in humble settings but arose to become great leaders. Without riches, they used their minds, brains, and perspectives to create two companies that gave us efficient and technologically advanced ways to live. Without college educations, they educated themselves, gathered thinkers, and inspired their employees to create incredible inventions and structures. However, Pittsburgh was challenged long after they both died. Could Pittsburgh develop the Transformative Leadership and a transformed citizenry to rebuild itself?
One key for Pittsburgh's transformation was the cohesive perspective of both the leaders and the people to adapt as necessary. Both the leaders and the workers became transformative and shifted their gears together. Andrew Carnegie had left the lessons he learned from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to Napoleon Hill and the people of Pittsburgh as seeds. Although most people who lost their jobs did not initially act upon those lessons, eventually many people of the region utilized these lessons; they used these lessons and perspectives about success, friendships, and well-being to invent and rebuild together. For Carnegie had shared his secrets of success and well-being with Napoleon Hill, and Carnegie donated almost all of his wealth to build considerable educational, engineering, and scientific institutions in the Pittsburgh area. He thought that the people of Pittsburgh would profit better in the long-term from his schools, libraries, and museums.
Another key for transformation is the neurological ability to change. Everyone has neuroplasticity to change how they use their brains. The people of Pittsburgh had to shift the use of their brains from seeing and doing things as steel workers and coal miners to completely different occupations in science and tech. However, if people in this new era learn how to become agile thinkers, then they can do more than the Pittsburghers have accomplished. If other employees across the globe in a third world country had mental agility that was similar or even better, then they will do what we cannot imagine.
Veritas Global Development reminds political leaders, corporate leaders, entrepreneurs, employees, and students alike that transformative success is very possible despite the lack of resources. For the most important resources are the brains and minds of people, and Veritas Global Development endeavors to help people to enhance and use their natural capabilities.