[New Rules] The Pace of Change – Uvalde, Texas 1953

Learnings come at all times, and in all places. This trip to Texas was no different.

But first things first: people were polite friendly at the wedding and the events surrounding the weekend. No one was rude, or in any way inappropriate. The ceremony was nice, and the bride and groom looked great. Food – as part of lifelong quest for the best chicken enchiladas to be found – was good.

As someone who has lived life in the citified blue bubble of the Pacific West, Uvalde, Texas seemed to be not just a trip across country, but a trip back in time. Change, as some say, had taken a long holiday in Uvalde, as even the town’s own sense of history seemed to have stopped 60 years ago. Back to the Future had become Back to the Past.

At first it was deceptive: signs of technological change were present as people had iPhones, the Quality Inn had broadband, the H E B and the Tractor Supply Company looked current.

Social change, though, seemed suspended circa 1953. In a county of 25,000 that was 70% Latino and around 50% female, the framed pictures of past presidents on the walls of the Uvalde Country Club (“the place for the best food in town”) looked strangely the same – all male and all Anglo –or at least until President Olga Charles recently broke the pattern.  People talked of the local community as two separate cultures – Latino and Anglo. There were, as the resident said, “no blacks, no gays, and no Jews.” I suggested in response, perhaps, that there were no African-American, gays, or Jews that they knew of.

Talk with the local businessmen was about keeping the small farm viable though there was not much interest in talking about the ways some of the small farms around the country have become smarter (and more viable) by moving into less commoditized crop varieties.

It was a town, in one person’s words, where young kids move from when they can, and don’t come back except to visit. People who moved to town 40 years ago from someplace else, someone mentioned, were still considered “tourists.”

St. Francis of Assisi prayed “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” People seemed brave here, but were they shortchanging themselves on courage?

Change, as a favorite mentor John “Jack” Hawley would say, can happen slowly or in the blink of any eye. He could have added that two conditions can help drive change; signficant opportunity, or significant pain.

Towns are not companies but they carry lessons as an analogue. The gist for the small town like Uvalde is to change while you can and before it’s too late. Unlike Hondo, the next town over toward San Antonio, Uvalde has not made themselves attractive to outsiders (potential second home buyers for a place in the country) or to tourists (embracing cultural diversity would be start). If bets were made, Uvalde like the change tale involving a boiling frog story , would be shorted.

Learnings from the organizational side of the world apply to towns like Uvalde well: anticipate change and work with it, and if you can’t anticipate it, scramble like heck to adapt.

New Rules is an occasional set of writings focused on changes in norms, culture, or ways of navigating work, organizations and careers. More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar.