The Bright Lines: Understanding what drives you
Earlier, I introduced this new weekly project to tell my story, show how it’s just one example of the American journey, and look at how it may help you in yours. In coming months, I’ll explore how my experiences in the military, politics, business, nonprofits, and academia have influenced my understanding of how the world works — and how we together can improve it.
The goal with this post is to drive further at understanding the meaning and purpose of what drives you. I will write later about the importance of family and friends, but this piece will largely focus on the What I do, as well as the deeper meaning of Why I do it.
You may recall that I narrowly lost the 2018 race to represent US Congressional District 21 here in Texas. Our team’s ground game was well designed, and our message resonated with a lot of people — we narrowly lost in a heavily gerrymandered district. Afterwards, I took some time to think about my next steps. I realized after the campaign that those the previous two years on the campaign trail were just an extension of what I was already working on in different capacities of my life and career.
What I realized is that I will always continue to fight the good fight — but not solely as a political candidate, military officer or business owner. Going forward, I’ve deliberately organized my effort into five Bright Lines, five important priorities that will receive my time and effort. These are the five areas I believe will help reconnect people to the American Dream in the 21st Century and where I can deliver the most impact to communities and our nation. And they are generally the areas I think about all day long, even when I’m not working. They’re what keep me up at night — and what gets me up in the morning. (I’ll write more later about the “Alarm Clock Test.”)
Throughout the given week or month, I am working on these projects (with no particular priority, since they seem to overlap all the time anyway). Here are what I consider to be the “Bright Lines” that give meaning and purpose to my work:
1. Fixing our Broken Political System
As I wrote in the Texas Tribune in 2019, we all know US political system is broken (or at least greatly in need of improvement). Rancor and petty cut-downs have replaced thoughtful debate. Partisan loyalties mean more than the truth. Big money and corporate influence taint the process.
The results? Government shutdowns. Policies that lurch one way, then another. A ballooning federal deficit — even while government fails to tackle our time’s most pressing needs.
And the American public — most all of us — complain in unison, “Why can’t politicians in DC get anything done?”
We need a new way to think about problems, a new way to engage each other. Or maybe it’s an old-fashioned way — a way that’s been left behind and an entire generation has never seen. A way that’s neighborly. A way that helps us see each other…even people who look different, have a different education, live in a different place…as fellow Americans worthy of respect and trust. A way that starts with values we hold in common: love of country and community, admiration for hard work, and the desire to leave our kids a better future.
That new way frees the US electorate from the stereotypes of the current political party labels. Our positions on what government should do should proceed from reasoned consideration of the facts, rather than simply what the party we grew up in says. And we should hold our representatives to that same standard.
That would mean more across-the-aisle cooperation from Pennsylvania Avenue, DC, to Main Street, USA. It would also mean getting more done — and working together toward a better future for our children and grandchildren. That’s the reason I launched USTomorrow, a nonprofit that aims to limit partisanship and encourage cross-party collaboration.
2. Updating the Workforce and Preserving the American Dream
One reason Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election was his focus on the American worker. That’s something he and I agree on.
While I agree with the President that the American worker is key to our nation’s sustained success, we differ greatly on how to meet the needs of our evolving economy and role in the world. But here’s the point: we both — and all of us — can start a conversation with the common goal of supporting the American worker.
How do we do that? Good deals with other countries is an essential aspect. Holding China accountable for unfair practices (including intellectual property theft) is important. But what about our workers themselves?
Here’s the biggest challenge to the American workforce: machines are replacing humans. Factories manned mostly by robots are turning out cars, soft drinks, and computers quickly, efficiently, and cheaply.
…But what happens to the people who used to do that work? What happens to their families and communities?
And what about filling the roles that robots simply can’t do? Inventors, innovators, dreamers, scientists, and entrepreneurs are prototyping new lines of American industry every day. How are we training and supporting this critical evolution of American leadership?
This isn’t the first time our country’s dealt with this. (After all, when is the last time you did business with your local farrier or barrel maker?)
As I have written before, we as a society can help our workers navigate these changes through lasting educational improvements, better workforce readiness, and smart immigration policies.
3. Mainstreaming Innovation
Finding it difficult to keep up with the latest innovation and breakthrough? You’re not alone. I’ve written extensively about the upcoming changes to our economy and how best to position the private and public sectors in a book I co-authored with Bret Boyd called Catalyst.
We are at a critical junction where we can choose to blame the loss of jobs on a changing economy, or we can re-position ourselves to embrace innovation and the jobs and industry it will create.
The tech revolution a century ago unleashed the power of electricity, radio, the automobile, the assembly line, and the airplane. Today’s technologies aren’t as simple to understand — but they’re just as game-changing. Quantum computing, genetic editing, machine learning, blockchain, 5G communications, electric vehicles and many more advances are opening up new possibilities.
Is our country ready?
How can we better connect investors with innovators? How do we encourage and empower entrepreneurs to move the US into new industries we haven’t even imagined?
While technology has certainly changed our landscape (I argue for the better), the impact and need of innovation doesn’t stop there. Government, education, city planning, civic engagement, and human relations are all poised to become smarter, more responsive, more resilient.
The central thesis of my company Grayline is laid out in this quote we have from our book Catalyst:
Globalization and technology are increasing the frequency of catalyst events — which trigger big changes with broad-reaching effects — ranging from innovations to socioeconomic crises. The consequences of these upheavals will transform industries, communities, and nations. Leaders who seek to ensure their organization’s success in the evolving environment must be prepared and proactive.
4. Building Infrastructure for the 21st Century
A future-ready, modern infrastructure is required to support our common social and economic life. It includes roads and bridges, sure. If we don’t have those, we — and our groceries — can’t get around. It also includes the electrical grid and water system, since we just can’t carry on with modern life without those.
But we can’t expect to get by on what served our population well in the past. When I was growing up, the internet didn’t exist for everyday people. Now, access to it is crucial for kids to be competitive in tomorrow’s work environment. But across the country, entire communities remain disconnected from the education, economic, and social good a robust online environment can provide. As new digital and digitally-dependent products and methods become ubiquitous, closing the digital divide is an imperative.
At the same time, we must keep the platforms of governments, banks, and utilities safe from cyber sabotage.
Many of today’s cities are limping along on road networks designed for personally-owned automobiles and built before we understood climate change. Today’s cities require we relook transportation — and include self-driving cars, public transportation, and smart city technology in the mix. (You may know that I’m kind of a transportation geek myself, which is why I started my company RideScout.)
But it’s not just transportation. As I wrote in November 2013, the Federal Government could be a catalyst to spur more efficient use of energy to deliver better results. It’s why I co-founded the Defense Energy Summit in Austin, Texas in 2013. And it’s why I continue to serve today as the Chair of the Board of Advisors for CleanTX to help accelerate the cleantech industry.
We should all agree that our success this century relies on reliable, efficient infrastructure — and investing in it must be a priority.
5. Mentoring and Entrepreneurship
As I said during my keynote to the McCombs School of Business BBA graduating class of fall 2019, “People will be what they can see.” In this on-line project going forward, I’m now working hard to share what I’ve learned with others so they, too, can see what is possible in their journey, both in their personal and professional worlds, just as others helped me along the way.
As an Executive in Residence at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, I enjoy working with students and faculty on their way to blaze new paths.
My wife and I, as parents of three daughters, are well aware of the unique challenges that girls face in today’s America. We’ve enjoyed supporting organizations like Girlstart, working to introduce the possibilities of science, technology, engineering and math careers to girls in Central Texas.
Veterans also face unique challenges (but bring new perspective and huge potential) when transitioning from public service to civilian life. I’m working directly with veterans as they build their companies and The Bunker to provide new pathways for veterans to become entrepreneurs and business leaders.
And I’m certainly not unique. Each of us has learned a lesson that might lighten someone else’s load. Find a way to share it.
In the coming months, I’ll share plenty online with y’all about what I’ve learned about leadership, business, government…and life.
Look for more about the Bright Lines over the next month or so.
Got a comment or idea? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a note in the comment section.
Until next time,
Here is a quick summary of my background: www.JosephKopser.com