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Is ‘Kansas City Nice’ Stifling Innovation?

Local entrepreneur says the culture of 'Kansas City nice' is stifling innovation.

This article was originally published on Startland News.

Let me start off by saying, I love Kansas City.

I love the humility. I love the blue-collar work ethic. I love the hospitality. I love the cost of living. In fact, I couldn’t be more proud to be a Kansas Citian. (I haven’t gone a day since the World Series without wearing at least one article of Royals or Kansas City gear.)

Not only do I love Kansas City but I am as passionate as anyone about helping our city reach its full potential. I often say that Kansas City is my startup. With the revitalization of downtown, momentum of our entrepreneurial community and successes of our sports teams, there is no reason KC should not be a world-class, 21st-century city.

However, there is one big thing holding us back, and it’s actually one of the very things that makes us great … It’s “Kansas City nice.”

If you’re from KC, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s our endless desire to make everyone feel wanted, welcomed and comfortable. However, that desire is killing the innovative companies we so badly want to succeed.

Often, when I go to meetings with Kansas City leaders, it almost seems accepted that the real conversations happen in the parking lot afterwards, not in the meeting we just finished. This is a huge problem. We sit in meetings and bite our tongue in order to keep everyone happy, but we’re hurting ourselves in the long run.

If we can’t give and receive honest, constructive, face-to-face feedback, we’ll never be one of America’s most entrepreneurial cities.

Credit Startland
Adam Arrendondo

  If we don’t take the opportunity at civic events to celebrate successes, but also challenge our shortcomings because it makes a few people uncomfortable, we’ll never be one of America’s most entrepreneurial cities.

If we don’t invite KC’s high-potential startups to participate in discussions to build programs and resources to support them because their feedback may disrupt the status quo, we’ll never be one of America’s most entrepreneurial cities.

If we don’t establish measurable goals for our entrepreneurial efforts because we’re too risk averse to take bold action and hold ourselves accountable, we’ll never be one of America’s most entrepreneurial cities.

People are nice because they care. I’ve talked with countless early-stage entrepreneurs over the years that keep their mouths shut to play the “KC nice” game. But now is the time we must change or risk being left in the dust.

There are many questions that deserve frank answers. Here are a few I believe need to be addressed:

  • Why does the view of early-stage capital in Kansas City vary so drastically between entrepreneurs and civic leaders?
  • Why aren’t our highest potential innovators and civic leaders discussing how to build America’s most entrepreneurial city together? Why aren’t college students a more integral part of our entrepreneurial community?
  • Why do many corporations view startups as competition for talent?
  • Why is there such little diversity in our startup community?

I could continue, but these are just a few of the big questions that we’re failing to discuss. If we don’t get those most affected and those best positioned to drive change together to address these questions, we’ll never be America’s most entrepreneurial city.
Let’s just be honest, Kansas City: honesty is not one of our strong suits. We’re simply being too nice. It’s time for that to change.

It’s time for some tough love, Kansas City.

Adam Arrendondo is a Startland News community builder and the director of entrepreneurship for CEED, a startup ecosystem incubator.