Sunday, January 13, 2008

From NSA issue 12/The Naples Institute

What follows in italics is from the NSA e-newsletter, issue 12. When the italics end, the unpublished writing begins.

Several months ago, my friend John remarked, “You know, Ted, you need your own think tank.” It was a passing comment, but it stuck with me because I’d been thinking the same thing for a long time.

Now, what John meant was that I have a pretty fertile mind, and I could use some help getting my ideas out into the world. That was kind of him, but I had another idea entirely, one that to me was a lot more interesting.

Naples has arguably the highest concentration of leaders, past and present, of any community in America. When you think about it, we are to CEOs what Beverly Hills is to movie stars. And I’ve been fortunate enough to meet many of these people of influence. Surely there was an opportunity here to do some good.

What if we could get some of the best minds in the world together to work on some of the things that need fixing? Things like poverty and its root, lack of opportunity. Things like incompetent leadership and unenlightened management.

If nothing else, John gave a nudge to this notion of mine. It took me some more noodling, but finally
I approached someone I thought would be great for this kind of endeavor: Dr. Gene Landrum. This brilliant man created Chuck E. Cheese, now a billion-dollar company, and he has been behind a number of other start-ups as well. He is author of thirteen books, most of them studies of fascinating, highly successful people. He is a professor at Hodges University and, it turns out, we share a mutual friend in Truly Nolen. With Truly’s introduction, Gene agreed to meet, and he loved the idea. Our think tank was born!

I asked Gene who else we should include, and he suggested Bernie and Rita Turner, founders of Walden University, the first “school without walls” – which currently boasts 20,000 students. Bernie leads the Naples chapter of the Center For Inquiry (CFI) here in Naples; he and Rita thought we were really onto something, too, and they happily opted in.

Now we were cooking with gas. Bernie just happens to know every intellectual ever born, and most of the earth’s people of character and merit as well. Better, each of these leaders highly respects Bernie. With a phone call, our group included Dr. Jim Fisher of Tampa, multiple bestseller and Pulitzer Prize nominee. Jim is a leadership and organizational guru, a philosopher-warrior whose mission seems to be to assail the waste and mediocrity of the status quo. Just our luck, Jim was waiting for just such an organization to come into existence – though perhaps he didn’t even realize he was waiting for it until Bernie’s call.

Another friend of the Turner’s and CFI member joined our ranks: the active, dynamic philanthropist Jeanmarie Hendry. And we rounded out our numbers with my own close personal friend, co-creator of Naples Social Action, businessman, and technology expert Michael Junkroski of Marco Island’s Our group of Founders was gathered.

I have to credit Bernie again for giving our organization its rallying cry: Fighting for Social Justice. It sums up everything we Founders believe in, everything that Jane and I have been trying to accomplish through NSA and the Coiné Foundation. I feel lucky just to be included in such a group. But I’m not just a member; probably because it was my idea, and perhaps also because I don’t sleep very much and so have some time on my hands, I find myself leading this pack of extraordinary leaders. It is a heady responsibility, one that I take quite seriously.

It has taken us a couple of months to flesh out exactly what it is we’re going to do first, and how. Indeed, we’re still tweaking parts of that, and we have agreed that the tweaking will never really end – after all, a think tank should by its nature be a dynamic and ever-evolving force force for change. But we’re finally up and running, and we’re quite proud of our first endeavors.
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