It would be hard to miss the news, but just in case you haven't heard, Amazon is dating. No, they haven't created a profile on Tinder or Match, but they have made it quite clear that they are looking for love - in the form of the perfect city in which to house a second headquarters (HQ2, as they affectionately refer to it).
At times the process has played out like a season of the Bachelor, with Amazon actually producing a list of its "likes" and "dislikes" describing its ideal match, and then 238 cities including Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego (not to mention whole states like Michigan) virtually tripping over one another to be the last one standing at the altar. But when all is said and done, Little Rock, Arkansas won't be there. In fact they didn't even make it past round one, all because of the Dear John letter (or is that "Dear Jeff") they sent the world's largest online retailer.
To say Little Rock was bold in rejecting Amazon's advances would be an understatement. After all, they not only brushed off all its promises of 50,000 new jobs and chose to forego the envious stares of whomever Amazon left behind, they decided to say adios publicly. The city took out a full-page ad in the paper with the header "Hey Amazon, We Need To Talk", followed immediately by the old standby, "It's not you, it's us." It was the smartest move the city could have made, and here's why.
An Offer You Can't Refuse But Should
Even before finalists have been picked, the Amazon gig has been called "the trophy deal of the decade," an opportunity not just to bring thousands of jobs to the winning city, but a chance to raise that city and state's image simply by virtue of being picked.
But being the "it" city isn't without costs. Amazon has set a high bar for its future partner, demanding a dowry that must include an on-site means of mass transit, quick access to major airport, and submission of demographic data that will allow the company to weigh the smarts of the local population.
While other cities have eagerly, even aggressively played along, Little Rock took a deliberate pause to more thoughtfully consider the proposal. Wisely, they took the time to imagine life with their new suitor. And they didn't like what they saw.
Let's Not Even Date... Sorry
It's not that they were blind to what they were potentially giving up. "After all," they noted in their letter, "You're Amazon. You're smart, sexy, and frankly, incredibly rich." "But when we really started to think about what our future would look like," the city's letter continued, "we realized it would probably never work out between us."
What Little Rock realized was who they are: a smaller, livable city, one with "a booming business environment, tech-savvy workforce, diverse, creative culture and a flourishing downtown" and a "compact urban footprint" to boot making commutes short, even walkable.
The city even pointed out that these were the very characteristics that made them unique and attractive as a contender--and they didn't want to lose a single one of them by making the mistake of teaming up with Amazon. "Amazon," they gently but firmly put it, "you've got so much going for you, and you'll find what you're looking for. But it's just not us."
The Benefits Of Being Who You Are
Too often, the hardest things for most cities, companies, leaders, and for that matter, people to do is to admit who they are. The irony is that if they did, they'd know exactly what to build on (i.e. their strengths and uniqueness) to continue to evolve and progress with the highest possible odds of doing so successfully. Choosing to be other than yourself or worse, letting someone else define you, is the surest way to lower those odds.
Little Rock didn't just see who they were, they saw two other things: who they could be and who they were never going to be.
I know it. You know it. And Little Rock knew as well that the chances were slim that they'd be the last city standing among the competitors for Amazon's affection. 'Why not face facts, get out ahead of the curve, and control our own destiny?' they seemed to presciently recognize.
But then they went one better. Little old Little Rock turned an almost inevitable loss into an incredible win. Thinly disguised beneath the breakup was a brilliant marketing pitch for why everyone, not just Amazon, should start thinking about the city as a leader. They even deftly kept the very company they were rejecting from going away mad concluding, "If another expansion opportunity comes up and you're ready to join the visionaries, dreamers, romantics and idealists who know that bigger isn't always better, give us a call. We would love to find a way to make "us" work out."
Brilliant. And oh so easy to do if you know who you are, and trust that.