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Projects such as Headwaters Park push the city out of its comfort zone toward greater achievement.

Risky leap from good to great

I was talking with someone about Fort Wayne recently, and he said something that got my attention.

We were discussing the riverfront study that’s finally coming to fruition after years in the making when he wondered aloud why it has taken us so long to get the study going in the first place.

He thinks the reason is we’ve been too comfortable for too long in Fort Wayne. Our city isn’t a bad place to live, so for a long time, we didn’t really have anything pushing us to make it better.

So I got to wondering: Is it possible that we’ve grown so comfortable with Fort Wayne being good that we’ve been slow to make it great?

It turns out it’s not just Fort Wayne’s problem. It’s a problem with the entire good-and-steady, play-it-safe human race.

People are wired to be risk-averse. But we aren’t averse to all types of risks.

In a broadcast last fall, NPR’s science correspondent, Shankar Vedantam, explained that we are most averse to risks that move us out of the status quo, even for the better. In fact, we will risk more and work harder to cut our losses and regain the status quo than we will to risk and work to get ahead.

One way this plays out is in gambling, Vedantam said. Gamblers are more hesitant to make first bets than second bets because when they place first bets, they’re already comfortable to a degree. They come to the first bet hoping to win more money and increase their comfort.

But once they place the bet (and usually lose), they’re suddenly eager to place a second bet so they can win back the money they lost and be comfortable again.

“With the second bet, what you’re really trying to do is you’re trying to head off the loss, and loss aversion theory suggests that the desire to avoid losses is wired more strongly into the brain than the desire to achieve gains,” he said.

That means we’d rather keep what we have than go for something greater. If you think about it, it makes sense. Some of the changes in our community that have taken us from good to great faced a fair share of criticism along the way.

When I first heard about plans for Parkview Field in the mid-2000s, I remember laughing at the idea. I thought spending nearly $30 million on a new ballpark for the then-Wizards was extravagant and unnecessary.

My family went to Wizards games, and even though I enjoyed them (mostly for the free giveaways and water balloons between innings), I didn’t see the need for a new ballpark. Memorial Stadium was fine, and most games the seats weren’t even full. I was comfortable with what we had, and I didn’t think we needed anything better.

Looking back now, I see that investing in Parkview Field was about more than baseball.

The ballpark has bolstered development of an entire block downtown, and it’s still bringing new faces and opportunities to our city.

As we move forward with the riverfront study and other efforts to make Fort Wayne a great place, let’s learn from the past and remember that sometimes it’s worth investing in change even if what we have now seems good enough to get by.

Kara Hackett is social media writer for The Journal Gazette. To see more of her work throughout the week and participate in the conversation, go to www.journalgazette.net/coffeebreak, where this column first appeared.

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