When I began my job as the communications coordinator for The Patterson Foundation in 2016, one of the first things Debra Jacobs suggested I do was sign up for The Harwood Institute Public Innovators Lab. This is where people learn not to arrive with the answer and become aware of how we listen.

[Question: do you listen to respond or listen to understand what someone is saying to communicate?]

[Question: how do we actively listen while being aware of potential biases or preconceived notions?]

When the coursework and group conversations are complete, participants are considered Public Innovators.

"Public Innovators are people who are engaged in their communities and are committed to solving the challenges around them. They are interested in transforming how things get done as they move the needle on specific challenges. These individuals hold and cherish firm ideals to improve society, and they are equally pragmatic in wanting to see results." – Rich Harwood.

Public Innovators are librarians working in community to solve literacy problems.

Public Innovators are possibilitarians like Beth Duda, who have inspired thousands in our region to think about A Walk to Respect.

Public Innovators are passionate CEOs like Debra Jacobs, who lead foundations and have the opportunity to be architects for good and choose to work with others to lift entire regions.

Fast forward six years later to 2022.

While I do not think of myself as a Public Innovator [yet], I do think I am innovative.

In early 2021, I asked myself what my perfect life would be. After thinking about it for more than a year, it finally solidified. I felt alive. But I had no idea where to start.

I approached Heather Koester, an accomplished leader with an international business background. Heather, also a Public Innovator, listened and shared information about CareerSource Suncoast's Thrive. Then, she introduced me to Patrick Smith, senior workforce education consultant. I was enrolled in the next (free) offering the following day.

The purpose of the course is to teach participants about business and how to craft a personalized professional business plan, business model, and financial forecast. Throughout the coursework, there are sections called reality checks. Among other things, they suggest having focus groups and reaching out to customers with questions for competitive analysis.

At this moment, Harwood teaching bells rang LOUDLY.

I realized I could use Harwood techniques to inform my business plan aspirations. So I invited sixteen creative friends and coworkers to not only share their thoughts but experience my blindfold tasting -- in collaboration with Mary Gammon, co-founder of Gourmet Vida.

During this experience, participants shared sensory deprivation and exhilaration as Mary and I moved through the five flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. The unexpected brought delight, and it was truly an evening of magic. Being blindfolded built connection and trust. I imagine, on some level, this helped my friends [they didn't all know each other] feel safe to express themselves openly when it came time for the thought-provoking community conversation about what else is possible for the art community on the Suncoast.

Public Innovators/TPFers Michael Zimmerman and Connie Cuadrado assisted me in creating poignant questions, of which Debra helped me finesse. At the event, Michael and Connie continued to help by facilitating their tables.

The blindfold tasting and the Harwood technique proved to be the perfect recipe for progress.

The next blindfold adventure | community conversation will be on July 23, 2022. I look forward to sharing my findings as vast ideas begin to smallify.

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