Several months ago I wrote about what I called Maine’s “culture of negativity.” I was responding to what I saw as the chorus of “No!” that seems to rain down on any proposal to change the way things operate today.

That column generated a downpour of its own. There were responses both from those who agreed with me that Maine is suffering from the stagnation that follows rejection of every call for change, and from those who argued that “No!!!” was the proper response to changes that threatened the very existence of the Maine we all love.

Both sides of this argument have their reasons, and no one can deny that we have all grown skeptical of the claims of so-called experts who claim to have “change you can believe in.” From “Mission Accomplished!” banners on battleships to “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor!” the examples of promised changes for the better that have turned out to be complicated morasses with no good end in sight, certainly give us all pause about claims for the future.

Holding on tight to what we have while resisting any change in course can seem the most reasonable course in a gale.

Reasonable though it may be, however, such a course leaves our fate blowing in the wind. If we say “Yes!” to nothing, our future is clear – we will maintain our death grip on our unsustainable present until all our children have left (and are not replaced by someone else’s children coming here), our hands lose their strength and we slide to the floor either alone, or outside the view of the summer people from away with whom we have no relationship.

The ultimate negativity is the belief that there can be a future without change. We have to say “Yes!” to something.


And that is why it is so important that we as a people and our institutions in Maine embrace the creative, entrepreneurial, inter-connected, “I create my own job” culture of optimism that is increasingly open to us.

We must change the image of the stereotypical Mainer from a solitary, inward looking, hard-working, nature-loving person who turns resources into things to a collaborative, always connected, outward looking, hard-working, nature-loving person who turns information into meaning.

Our past was the industrial age. Those who prospered were those who found more and better ways to turn natural resources into useful products.

Our future is the information age. Those who prosper will be those who can turn information into meaning, into insights and ideas that make life better for others.

If we are to thrive in that future, we must understand and embrace that fundamental difference.

It is not enough to talk about “skills gaps” that we must identify and fill. That very definition of the problem betrays an “old industrial economy” orientation.


Finding ways to train enough widget makers is not the main problem. By the time we’ve got that program up and running, the demand for widgets will have evaporated. What we need to inculcate in everyone – managers and workers alike – is a better sense of the new economic era of information and meaning.

Someone recently asked the head of mergers and acquisitions at Cisco Systems, the networking gear manufacturer, if she thought Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp (a company with 50 employees and zero profits) for $19 billion – approximately 35 percent of Maine’s entire Gross State Product – was “worth it.” She replied that if Facebook had decided that buying the company would get them where they wanted to go faster than developing it themselves, then, yes, the deal was indeed worth it.

Such is the optimism that drives the new information/meaning economy. Those who love this state must find a way to come to that sense of optimism, to see that we could never build this place on our own, that if we do want to have it be our future, we’d better buy it for ourselves before it falls from our grasp.

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions Inc. He can be contacted at:


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