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Changing the minds of people who think good ideas can’t come from the middle states

“Isn’t it true that in the south, half the schools don’t even teach science, it’s just God and guns?”

That was a real question asked by host Daniel Moss during the January 11th episode of “Bloomberg Benchmark,” an economic and financial podcast. Moss, an economics editor for Bloomberg in addition to his role as podcast host, was born in Australia before living in Washington, D.C., and then Brooklyn.

The episode featured Moss speaking to Jared Dillian, a former trader and newsletter editor who had moved from New York City to Charleston, South Carolina, and discovered he liked living in a smaller city.

Apparently, Moss believes half of the south is taught—in school—that the best way to solve climate change is to shoot it out of the sky.

The Silicon Prairie isn’t the south. However, after spending a good part of the last two years writing about the startup scene in St. Louis, and broadly the Midwest, I can tell you the regional bias (and, frankly, outright ignorance) Daniel Moss displays is a real thing.

Negative perceptions about non-coastal America are as widely held about the parts of the country that grow corn as they are about the parts of the country that grow cotton.

Of course, residents of the South, Midwest, and other non-coastal locations hold their own biases, but those biases usually don’t include the idea that half of the people living in San Francisco were too busy playing with their hacky sacks to learn photosynthesis or the scientific method.

Hearing Daniel Moss, an intelligent, educated, influential person make that statement made me angry, in part because Moss is saying there is a 50/50 chance my three kids are entering adulthood without a basic understanding of science.

But being angry about a bias doesn’t change anything. Instead, those of us who live outside the coasts and believe our hometowns produce talented, innovative people with great ideas need to work to change that bias.

We need to be advocates for local businesses and startups. Whenever possible, we need to shop locally—which means more than just buying our produce from a farmer’s market. It means choosing to use the HR platform developed by the startup in our local entrepreneurial ecosystem, rather than the one developed in Silicon Valley. It means putting our money in local venture funds, even they deliver (at least initially) a lower return. It means really believing and investing in our communities, rather than using products and platforms made in other places.

It also means telling our story. The Midwestern tendency to be humble and wait for the world to discover us is admirable, but it’s built on the flawed premise that someone is looking—and that they are looking with an open mind.

The unfortunate reality is that there are people living on the coasts (like Daniel Moss) who view even the smartest Midwesterners and Southerners as the equivalent of a baboon that learns sign language: More evolved than his or her peers, but certainly not an equal.

Changing that perception requires consistently telling a better story. Thankfully, the better story is also the true story. People like Daniel Moss apparently forget that while Facebook and Snapchat were invented on the coasts, the Midwest gave us Henry Ford and the Wright brothers. This part of the country was a source of innovation long before the media based on the coasts of the country started thinking Midwestern (and Southern) innovators and startups were merely a novelty worthy of mentioning in the occasional “Hey look, there is more than heroin and abandoned factories in (fill in the city)” articles spotlighting non-coastal entrepreneurial ecosystems.

America is obviously deeply polarized, and that polarization extends to uninformed stereotypes about where people come from, and what someone’s place of birth (or adopted hometown) says about their intellectual capability and entrepreneurial potential.

A bunch of founders and startups aren’t going to single-handedly change that perception, but we can make a dent in it. If we choose to do business locally, invest in homegrown startups, and be aggressive about telling our story, we can help remind people like Daniel Moss that there is far more to the parts of the country people fly over than just God and guns.


Dustin McKissen is a two-time LinkedIn “Top Voice on Management and Culture.” He is also a columnist on Inc.com and a contributor for CNBC and VentureBeat.

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