Purpose-Driven People

The Power of Passion

By Dan Burden, Director of Innovation and Inspiration
Photography By Samantha Thomas, Built Environment Expert

Since 1996 I’ve been on the road up to 340 days a year, helping people improve community life by showing them how to see their hometowns through their own eyes and with their own two feet. I’ve worked in 3,500 communities across North America and every day I meet folks from all walks of life eager to create a better place for the people they care about the most, their family, friends and neighbors.

I’ve discovered that all towns possess passionate, purpose-driven achievers, many of whom are well-placed to initiate change: city managers, mayors, council members, business owners, teachers, nurses, firefighters, engineers, retired CEOs of large corporations, investors who manage billions of dollars in capital, and busy moms who find the time to tip over apple carts they feel need tipping.

These people are each unique, but share the same fire burning in their bellies. My job is to empower them to carry out the their community’s vision. These are the people stirring the pots that make America work. These people stand tall in my mind for their fair and fearless commitment to bringing change. They are true leaders: poised, self-confident, and artful.

“A strong sense of purpose not only boosts your community, but enriches your own life. I know it has for me. Dan Buettner, the longevity and happiness guru who founded Blue Zones, tells me that my sense of purpose can contribute to me being healthy and living up to an extra 9 years. I feel that with every breath I take.”

I remember one occasion, not long after I started this work, when I found myself standing in front of 200 public works directors in Washington state at their annual conference. For a town to be a healthy, happy, vital and prosperous place, it must find the best ways to manage the movement of sewage, water, electricity, cars and people on foot; to keep bridges upright, and to anticipate what the next round of weather might do to a building roof or foundation. That’s the job description of public works directors, and I was thrilled to share with them ideas about how to encourage more people to walk, and in the process, save them money.

Through my years on the road, I have learned a key technique to be an effective speaker — pick out just three or four people in an audience, and measure how I am doing by their interest and responses. Late in my keynote address to the public works directors, just as I was hitting my stride in passion and energy, one of the audience members I had been watching suddenly got up and left the room. Although momentarily deflated by this action, I regained my composure and pressed on. “Where did I go wrong?,” I wondered to myself. I would find out two weeks later.

My next blog post not only celebrates the public works director that left the room, and discusses his achievements and prowess, it explains why he left the room (a great and wonderful surprise!), but it will also launch a series of other great town making achievers that I have met over the years.

But to invite that interest, let me say that where it didn’t take a single interest group or individual to get us onto our current unhealthy and non-sustainable built environment track, it will take much more than a few heroes and heroines. I hope to share how the courage and skills of a few will become a wellspring of ideas, innovations and inspirations, bringing hope and encouragement.

This is the most exciting time in history to be involved with the built environment; all of the forces of health, prosperity, demographics, and the economy are lining up to become the perfect storm, and change will come to many communities as wellness and prosperity will spread across the land. This is why we want our efforts to become ingrained in policy and governance, dreaming up then implementing and measuring one model project at a time, not just a sidelight to planning, DOT or other efforts. The world needs change; and it is with well focused passion-driven energies that we become a healthier, more sustainable world.


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