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The Mother Road
December | 2012


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Courageous Leadership

The Mother Road

It's been a little more than 165 years since Navy officer, Edward Beale was ordered by the war department to build a government wagon trail road along the 35th parallel. The road was to go through the southwestern desert from New Mexico to Arizona and on to California. What became Route 66 followed the early wagon trails known as the Santa Fe Trail and Beale's Wagon Road.

With the advent of automobiles in the early 20th century, people had a way to take longer trips but automobiles required better roads than Beale's work had provided. There were no consistent maps that people could use since most mapping was confined to local areas. And no system of roads connecting towns to towns or states to states. People living in rural areas just wanted to get to the closest town from where they lived and had little interest in traveling between states.

It was entrepreneur Cyrus Avery from Oklahoma who promoted the idea of a national road between Chicago and Los Angeles and of course, he wanted to make sure that the road went through his native state. He was appointed to the US Joint Board of Interstate Highways in 1925 and he was able to use this appointment to insure the soon to be named Route 66 went through Oklahoma.

Route 66's official designation happened on November 11, 1926 when the road traversed 2400 miles from the corner of Jackson and Michigan Avenues in Chicago to the Santa Monica pier in LA. The selection of the number 66 was controversial because Avery originally wanted the road to have the numeric designation 60, but the folks from Kentucky lobbied hard to have their eastern part of the national highway have that number. So Avery settled on "66" because he thought it would be pleasant to say and hear (check out Nat King Cole's version to hear it at its sweetest).

Of course, nothing is successful without good marketing and several events sponsored by the newly formed US Highway 66 Associate not only encouraged paving of the road (completed in 1938) but encouraged people to travel the road. A $25,000 prize was awarded to Hartley Payne, a Cherokee runner from Oklahoma who finished first in a footrace from LA to New York that used Rt. 66 across the west. And the Association encouraged easterners to use the road for their cross-country trip to the Summer Olympics in LA in 1932. The road received perhaps, undesired acclaim through John Steinbeck's rendering of it in The Grapes of Wrath, when during the dust bowl's diasporic Oklahomans traversed it seeking a better life in California.

During World War II its importance as a military road required improved upgrading that led to development of more local commerce including restaurants and motels. This set the stage for Route 66's romantic period when vacationers heading west created a boom in all kinds of roadside tourist sights including teepees, blue whales and America's first McDonald located in San Bernardino. Route 66 was the living America on display every day for travelers to see.

President Eisenhower's signing of the Interstate Highway Act in 1955 set the stage for the demise of Route 66. As superhighways were built, they bypassed smaller towns and took more direct routes west. The on-ramp, off ramp system also precluded making services available merely by "pulling of the road." Despite efforts by local officials to integrate part of the road into the new system, it was typically deemed as inefficient and so the Mother Road entered a period of decline.

Starting in the late 1980s, efforts to revive the road as an historic route have seen fantastic results. In local communities across the country, towns such as Springfield Missouri and Flagstaff, Arizona have co-labeled existing streets with Route 66 signs. In 1996 Bill Clinton signed the National Route 66 Preservation Bill that provided $10 million in funding to preserve historic features of the road. And to make it all official, Pixar's 2006 animated film Cars featured Radiator Springs, a mythical ghost town located somewhere on Route 66. This grew out of the imagination of Pixar's legendary creative director John Lassater who took his family on a road trip across the legendary road and commissioned his staff to build the movie around the Mother Road.

The story of Route 66 demonstrates the course of most of our businesses and many of our industries. A hopeful birth, hard work to make sure they live and thrive, then as the economy and technology change the terrain, comes decline. Those of us who have been doing this for a while know that this lifecycle pattern may not be able to be avoided. But our hope is that, as happened with Route 66, a legacy is built that people will want to hold on to and build on to create new opportunities and new dreams.

 

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TED Talks

As part of my Resilience Advantage work, I've persistently claimed that multitasking is a myth and that our behaviors around multiple activities are either serial monotasking (where we do activities one after another) or in the instance where we try to multitask (like reading the paper and talking with our spouse) our efficiency decreases to such as level that we forget what we read and suffer the wrath of an unattended to life partner. Now I have further support from product designer Paolo Cardini who has come up with a clever way to use our smartphones more intelligently. Check out this brief Ted Talk to see about ordering your new iPhone cover.

 

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